| I'm Stuck |

My Self-Expression Is Being Stifled

Real, authentic avodas Hashem is excruciatingly private. At the end of the day you stand before Hashem alone



In Mishpacha’s recent serial, All I Ask, by Ruti Kepler, I was immediately drawn to the main character Yanky. You see, I’m a female Yanky. I, too, was born and raised within a particular framework of a closed chassidish community. And that’s where I learned what I can be, but also what I cannot be.

It’s a warm and vibrant community and there’s a lot to admire and appreciate. But there’s no room within it for my own unique style of growth, my own flavor of the spiritual, my own version of being a bas Yisrael and eved Hashem.

I am not disillusioned. My faith is strong and my connection to Hashem is real and deep, but I am sad and frustrated. Sad that I cannot express my individuality within this community and frustrated because my self-expression is being stifled.

As a thinking adult, if I could step back and actually choose, I know which lifestyle, which community, Rav, and shul would add richness to my life and complement my goals in ruchniyos. But the expectation is that we stay within the community into which we were born. We don’t choose differently, so no waves are made and no heads turn to see somebody who marches to the beat of her own drummer.

I envy Yanky.
Beaten by the Beat


Miriam Kosman is a lecturer for Nefesh Yehudi, an affiliate of Olami, and teaches Torah thought to hundreds of university students throughout Israel every week. She’s the author of Circle, Arrow, Spiral, Exploring Gender in Judaism and a Family First columnist.


Firstly, I’d like to validate your pain. The need for spiritual nourishment is as real and ravenous as the need for physical sustenance. When your community doesn't understand those needs, or worse, makes you feel inadequate or defective for not being satisfied, the invalidation makes the hunger sting even more.

I also want to commend you for being so clear that the pain you’re feeling is about a possible mismatch between you and your community's brand of Yiddishkeit not between you and Judaism itself or between you and Hashem, chas v'shalom.

Tragically, the inability to make that distinction sometimes results in the choice to throw out Hashem and His Torah with the bathwater, instead of moving over a few (figurative or literal) miles to join another frum community that more closely aligns with one's personality or inclination. Therefore, nuance here is critical.

Still, I think it's important to stress that Yanky's apparent success notwithstanding, switching communities is a big (and often traumatic) step with major ramifications. It’s easy to underestimate how much we gain from being part of a community—even an imperfect one. In general, a community gives us a framework in which to settle ourselves and our families, and helps us to form our identity and spiritual aspirations.

More specifically, the particular benefits of insular communities— the high standards of kedushah, the protection from the ugliness of the outside world, and even the judgment mentality (which often irks us, but keeps us on our toes)—are often cavalierly dismissed as insignificant by those who leave. And then they discover that exposure to the big world has its own challenges.

A friend who switched from a very insular community where interactions between men and women were almost non-existent, to a more open community, told me that she hadn’t realized that not only would she have more freedom in her new community, but her husband would as well; that change in his approach proved to be one of her big challenges in her new life.

Certainly in the area of chinuch, the benefit of avoiding endless battles against technology singlehandedly cannot be overestimated. Many would argue that it’s easier to raise children in an insular community, while exposing them privately to more breadth than the community offers than to raise them in an open community and run a losing sprint to close the gate after the horse has already escaped.

Of course, that involves walking a tightrope to avoid undermining your community’s standards, but many parents do that successfully; in fact, children of such parents often pick up a certain breadth by osmosis.

Another point—which might be hard to believe when you’re feeling choked and repressed—is that there really is no such thing as an ideal community. Even the community you eye admiringly surely has its cracks. Idealism and depth cannot be mass produced—the more people the ideology attracts, the more the ideas become diluted, or, even worse, distorted.

In fact, a community’s weak points are often the mirror image of their strong points—what you dislike about your community is the flip side of what you gain. More insular communities run the risk of breeding narrowness and superficiality; open communities battle cooling ideological fires and the cynicism that exposure to the outside world inevitably generates.

Yet with all the importance of community, don’t overestimate its value either. Sometimes our criticism of our community distracts us from our real task. The fact is that we bring ourselves with us wherever we go. People who’ve switched cultures sometimes discover that the exact challenges they’d fled from reappear in another incarnation in their next community.   

While Yanky’s story ended on a positive note, in real life, it’s entirely likely that his non-conformist, questioning nature was only temporarily quieted and once the novelty wears off, he might be on the prowl again. (Poor Raizy!).

Which brings up another point: feelings of disconnect from one’s community might have less to do with one’s community and more to do with the sad(dish) truth that spiritually aware, sensitive people often feel lonely on some level, because most people aren’t that interested in their inner world. That’s true across the board, irrespective of community.

Real, authentic avodas Hashem is excruciatingly private. At the end of the day you stand before Hashem alone.

Of course, standing alone before Hashem also means that you’ll have to give an accounting of what you did with the intellectual and spiritual strivings He gave you. It would be tragic if you buried those gifts  to accommodate your community’s social mores. I cannot overstate how crucial it is that you find the kind of Torah that speaks to your neshamah and then pursue it like a bulldog with a bone. But I do want to suggest that perhaps you can do that without getting bogged down by the trappings.

People tend to think that to do hisbodedus you need to wear a white yarmulke, and if you maaser your vegetables, you need to have a certain kind of peyos, but while external identification with an ideological community has its benefits, on another level that kind of affiliation is trivial.

Torah Judaism is holographic  each aspect of Judaism contains within it all the other aspects. Living in one community does not bar you from drinking from the fountain of another community—certainly not in today’s world of accessibility, which (let’s be crystal clear about this point) Hashem has orchestrated for us.

It’s fascinating to note (and perhaps ungrateful not to note) the evocative the concurrence of women’s greater interest in spiritual connection through Torah knowledge (perhaps attributable to the global change in women’s status) and the explosion of access via technology to previously hermetically sealed Torah resources.

Lastly, nothing in life is static—not even your community. If you have a sincere desire to grow and learn, this might be a golden opportunity. And if you feel your needs are not being met, it’s entirely possible that there are others, less articulate or less self-aware than you, who feel similarly malnourished.

When your desire for change comes not from a place of rebellion, but from a deep identification with the system — precisely because you see the beauty, you’re pained by contradictions—it may be you who merits to bring a stronger spiritual vibrancy to your community. As Jews we have a rich and varied history, both Biblical and recent, of women who affected real and lasting change to the benefit of all of Klal Yisrael. While the circumstances of these women varied greatly, a common denominator was affinity and rapport with the system they were trying to change. Don’t underestimate the power of pure motivations.

To sum up, if by staying in your community you become cynical and resentful, subtly undermining your community’s message by your attitude, then there probably isn’t much good that your community can do for you or you for them.

But there’s another option, one that will involve honesty and scalpel precision. Stay. But be very clear to yourself about the cost and benefits of staying. Don’t discount the price—it’ll definitely cost you—but don’t downplay the benefits either. Perhaps you can expand your own personal garden without breaking the community’s fence, and then the light you radiate by filling your own neshamah will illuminate the world as well.

Shlomtzy Weisz has 35 years of education experience. She has the Inevitable Emunah program with 120 interactive character workshops based upon her unique B&B principle on the 13 Ani Ma’amin. Originally from the U.K., she now lives in New York.


Let me begin by stating unequivocally that this challenge you’re facing is on par with any other major life nisayon. The Avodas Yisrael, when discussing the nisayon of Akeidas Yitzchak, says that a part of the challenge was Avraham’s extreme loneliness as he walked towards Har Hamoriah.

This sense of isolation wasn’t new to Avraham; he was called Avraham Haivri because the whole world was on one eiver, one side while he was on another. The Baal Shem Tov tells us that every soul must go through all of the nisyonos Avraham faced in some form. Loneliness is a life challenge for all.

I’d like to commend you for recognizing and being attuned to this emotion. We were created to be contributing individuals and when we cannot express ourselves naturally, it drains us of the spark in life.

The Akeidas Yitzchak discusses the pasuk in Bereishis (2:17): “It’s not good for man to be alone.” He states a chiddush by explaining that there are individuals who’ll never become “a man” unless they are alone. These people will never reach their full potential except through solitary struggle. I call these people the “Levado Souls.”

There are so many people experiencing existential loneliness — talented, productive, and accomplished people — but with the undercurrent of loneliness you’ve described. We only have to look at Yosef Hatzadik for an example of this. Yosef, too, was profoundly misunderstood, even accused of wrongdoing by his birth family, when in reality, his purpose was to fulfill his individual destiny.

You should also be aware that despite your frustration on a cognitive level, your soul has accepted this challenge. Although it may seem impossible to have ever chosen such deep emotional pain, Chazal tell us we were active participants in our soul’s journey before we descended into this world. Therefore, we may find ourselves in situations that our intellect rebels against, but which our spiritual selves recognize as essential to our purpose in this world.

The Navi Malachi (3:24) says that in the time of the geulah, Mashiach will return the hearts of the fathers to their sons. If the Navi predicts this as one of the features of the geulah, we can deduce that one of the features of galus is the excruciating pain of fathers and sons who will not be on the same derech. The chasm this causes throughout families is heartrending, as anyone who’s experienced this can attest. Whether or not you’ve voiced your thoughts, your feelings alone mean that you’re disconnected from those around you.

The Midrash Rabbah gives an interesting perspective to the pasuk in Bereishis (32:25): “And Yaakov was left alone,” and he then fought with the angel of Eisav. The Navi Yeshaya (2:17) uses the same terminology of “alone” when discussing the time of Mashiach: “Hashem alone will be exalted on that day.” Says the Midrash, this is Hashem’s message to all those lonely people: “I’m alone, you’re alone; let’s join together.”

While this doesn’t mitigate your pain, perhaps you can take comfort from the fact that in a sense, you’re enduring the same agony the Shechinah suffers throughout this galus.

You may notice that I’ve not given you any pat practical answers regarding exactly how you should resolve your issue. You don’t need simple answers. You’ve tried them. What you need is the sheer validation that this challenge is divinely delivered. As long as you believe that this has been superimposed upon by you by virtue of where you were born or who you married, then you’re stuck feeling like a victim. Once you accept that you were put here precisely to face this dilemma, you’ll free your mind and heart to be able to find the resources you need.

I feel for you, and I wish you Hashem’s guidance in forging your unique path in your avodah. May we soon be zocheh to the geulah when Hashem will heal us on every level and you too will be healed, your voice heard.

Baila Vorhand is a Family First columnist and the author of several books based on Rav Moshe Wolfson’s shiurim as well as one entitled, Free to be Me. She lives in Brooklyn.

I’m not answering your letter as a mentor, but as a fellow traveler who feels your pain deeply, although I’m further down the road than you are now. I’m a deep intellectual type who has tremendous spiritual intensity not your typical chassidishe female.

As such, in addition to hearing you pain, I also recognize the fear between the lines of your question. This fear isn’t unfounded—recklessly “switching paths” can be destructive.

However, nowadays with all the Torah available on the phone, discs, or downloads, a person can hear lectures from any derech of Torah  chassidus, kiruv, litvish—without veering from her path at all.

You refer to a specific lifestyle, community, and Rav, which would complement your spiritual goals. What’s stopping you from listening to shiurim by this rav, learning seforim that reflect his teachings, and incorporating the ideals you identify with in your daily life?

It’s not necessary to take an outward stand to reach spiritual shleimus. Most of our spiritual world is deep within and is only reflected outwardly by our joyful demeanor. There’s no need to make a public declaration that you’re marching to your own drummer; it’s personal and private. Truthfully, we each should be marching to our own drummer to formulate our inner world, independent of peer pressure or culture demands. We’re each unique and our inward spiritual journey is equally so.

I did find it interesting that you chose not to write about your husband’s take on your struggle. There are many men whose wives dive deeper into Torah than they do. Those husbands who are proud and nurturing of their wives are those who feel respected and nurtured themselves. Your relationship and shalom bayis are critical to giving you the support you need find your niche.

And you need support. You need to reach out and find others who are similar to you, to connect and share your thoughts.

I recently wrote an article about Tamar Taback, a rebbetzin from South Africa who’s forming an online support group for women to learn and grow in their yiddishkeit.

Whether or not this group or any official support group is exactly what you need, you do have to develop mentors and friendships with those who understand you. You’d be surprised how many people there are with whom you can share thoughts and insights that mesh with your own. You may find enough to form your own group.

It takes enormous sechel to navigate real life, function within society in dress and behavior, preserve your marriage and your children’s wellbeing, while still feeding your own soul. It’s essential to be in tune with yourself, to recognize how you personally relate to Hashem, Torah, and mitzvos. Once you’ve figured out your personal approach, incorporate it in your daily life without any public advertisements.

I have a close relative who belongs to a chassidus whose derech doesn’t work for him. He’s found mashpiim from other derachim who feed his neshamah and he learns from them. Yet he sends his children to the institutions of his traditional chassidus, and doesn’t make waves, thus maintaining shalom and growth. And he’s not the only one.

Be fearless, have emunah. If your neshamah’s demanding something of you, you must find a rav/mentor who speaks your language and utilize their guidance to shape yourself. It’s scary to shake status quo, but it’s much scarier to die an emotional death. Nobody wants to look back at her life with regrets that she didn’t do what she needed because of fear. The more you accept yourself, the more others will accept you for who you are.

I’m here if you want to reach out—and there are many more like me too.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 712)

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Comments (7)

  1. Avatar
    Rosally Saltsman

    I read the article “I’m Stuck,” but the responses to the woman’s dilemma — in both the article and the subsequent inbox letters — seem to lack any amount of validation. We hear you, we understand your pain but you can overcome it if you just…

    Do people not realize that Am Yisrael is composed of 12 different tribes with different critical attributes and holy purposes? The tribes were allowed to intermarry and when they did so the women went to live in another tribe — another community.

    I live in Israel in a neighborhood with at least 11 shuls within a three-to-five-minute walk from my apartment but they all cater to different groups of people: Sephardic, Yemenite, Ashkenazi, chareidi, chassidic, dati-leumi Torani, chardal, Carlebach. And everyone chooses the shul he wants to go to and it’s not necessarily the one you would expect or the one other members of his family go to.

    If a woman is feeling sad and frustrated with her spiritual framework because she feels it’s suffocating her and her true spiritual expression, telling her she has to learn to live with it is not a good or fair solution. If a child is suffering and unhappy at his school, do you tell him to live with it or try and find a more appropriate school? If someone is in a job they find constricting, do you tell them, “No, you have to work at this job for the rest of your life?” Of course not.

    Shlomtzy Weiss tells the woman, “Your soul has accepted this challenge.” Would she tell the same thing to a baal teshuvah who’s interested in becoming religious, “Your soul has accepted this challenge — stay where you are, this is essential to your purpose in this world?” And don’t baalei teshuvah have a choice as to which community they align themselves with? Why shouldn’t people born religious have that choice?

    Obviously if the letter writer is a chassidish woman married with children, living in an insular community, she can’t say to her husband, “Let’s go move to a religious moshav in Israel.” (Or can she?) But what we can do as a people is to realize that not one size fits all. The same way that baalei teshuvah seek their spiritual path that leads them to Torah-true Judaism, those born into religious families often seek a different path than the one they were born into, and we should validate that need and help guide them to the right mentors.

    In a book I wrote, Soul Journey, there was a story about an unhappy yeshivah bochur whose rosh yeshivah sent him to a chassidic community where he thought he would find simchah. He does. This probably couldn’t have happened at the beginning of chassidus, but it can happen now. And the opposite is true as well.

    Choosing a different community to align yourself with might be difficult, but not allowing someone to explore the possibility can have devastating results that may reverberate through generations. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing but we do have to validate who and what people are at their core. Seeking change isn’t always the yetzer hara at work. Sometimes it’s davka the neshamah.

  2. Avatar
    Miriam Adahan

    The women who responded to “I’m Stuck” were all eminently wise and empathetic, all pointing out that truly spiritual people will feel alone, to some degree. As Miriam Kosman stated, “Spiritually aware, sensitive people often feel lonely, [simply because] most people aren’t that interested in their inner world.” It doesn’t matter where you go, truly spiritual people are vexed by those who emphasize the superficial aspects of a religious life.

    Rabbi YY Jacobson, in The TorahAnytime, July 20, 2020, tells us that the letters of Sodom are the same as Mosad (institution). Our Sages tell us that the citizens of Sodom had a bed by which they measured their guests. If the body was too long, they cut off the feet. If the body was too short, the person was stretched. Unfortunately, sometimes institutions are oppressive, forcing everyone to conform, causing a loss of individuality and independence.

    On the other hand, as the writers said, the feeling of belonging, the shared ideals and the safety of a predictable structure are lost when individual uniqueness is emphasized. Baila Vorhand shows how one can march to one’s own drummer in private, modestly, without making a public stance of rebellion.

  3. Avatar

    I read with interest the letter signed Beaten by the Beat, in which she shares how she doesn’t feel spiritually fulfilled in her chassidish community. I was struck by curiosity: Which “unique style of growth” does the writer seek? What is it she cannot be?
    I’d appreciate if the writer would clarify which aspect of spirituality she feels is barred to her as a chassidish woman. As a chassidish woman myself, I can’t think how being chassidish could do that to a person. There may be aspects of avodah that chassidim put less focus on, but that doesn’t mean an individual can’t personally improve in that area. You want to be makpid on zeman tefillah, be makpid on zeman tefillah. You want to eat yoshon, eat yoshon. Who’s holding you back?
    The key difference in the avodah of a chassid is the emphasis on doing avodah b’simchah. You don’t like to do mitzvos with simchah? Go ahead, frown.
    I apologize for coming across cynical, and maybe I’m (chassidish-ly) naive, but in my eyes, when someone wishes to “defect” from chassidus, it’s usually a frustration with the many stringencies a chassid lives with. I don’t doubt your deep spiritual aspirations, but I do challenge you to share one aspiration you can’t aspire toward due to a chassid’s boundaries.
    Baila Vorhand put it so well. “What’s stopping you from listening to shiurim by this rav, learning seforim that reflect his teachings, and incorporating the ideals you identify with in your daily life?” If she’s a Satmar chassid and doesn’t like the position against women learning Tanach, I’m pretty sure her rav will allow her to learn whatever she chooses to learn.
    A chassidish life is rich and fulfilling. Yes, chassidim live with many boundaries. We’re more makpid on tzniyus, we converse in primitive Yiddish, we don’t follow or take any interest in sports. We’re more insular. We’re less comfortable in galus, less exposed.
    If a woman of 2020 admits that being chassidish stifles her, I’m left to assume that it isn’t the spirituality of chassidim that rubs her wrong, but rather the uncomfortable limitations this affiliation imposes on her life. And if this is the case, and it’s a driver’s license or dating life or longer sheitel she craves, she shouldn’t elevate that to spirituality-seeking. That’s lifestyle seeking, and her struggles are not as lofty as she makes them out to be.

    1. Avatar

      I found the letter in “I’m Stuck” written by a chassidish woman who didn’t feel spiritually fulfilled in her community, fascinating at several levels. As a major fan who avidly followed All I Ask and was blown away by the story’s depth, I loved that a fellow reader so related to one of the key themes of the story.

      As a fellow chassidishe woman, I believe I understood some of the unwritten sentiments between the lines of her letter, and fervently hope that she read every word of the excellent responses and found a workable way forward. Which is why I was somewhat taken aback by the responses printed by other chassidishe women in Family First, particularly the one from ‘A Thinking Yet Unbeaten Adult,’ who expressed skepticism that there is a form of spirituality available in the litvish world that a chassidishe woman could not access, and suggested that she was really seeking lifestyle changes.

      First, I found it interesting that the letter writer jumped straight to the chassidishe/litvish divide, when my impression was that the woman was looking at a different “brand” of chassidish. Are these other chassidish women living under a rock? There are hundreds of possible communities and sub-communities within the very broad definition of “chassidish,” and it’s no secret that in many communities it is considered the height of betrayal to follow a different chassidish mehalech than the one you come from, even if it all looks and sounds the same to a non-chassidish person.

      But beyond that, my educated guess is that the automatic implication of the letter by the “unbeaten adult” — that chassidish equals better, and if you’re not “up to it” then you’re “worse” — is probably one of the things that bothers “I’m Stuck” to begin with. Mrs. Unbeaten Adult exquisitely describes some of the core ideals of chassidus, and she has clearly been blessed with the chinuch that has successfully transmitted these values. But can she honestly say in 2020 that everyone who affiliates as chassidish lives up to these ideals, or is even aware of them? Is she unwilling to acknowledge that there are many chassidish communities where the focus on the “culture” is emphasized much more than any intellectual aspect — for both men and women? That it’s possible today to call oneself chassidish and walk the walk, talk the talk, and reap all the societal benefits, while living a lifestyle that is the antithesis of the very values she specifies?

      On the flip side, does Mrs. Unbeaten Adult really think that chassidim have a monopoly on boundaries that she listed, such as being makpid on tzniyus, not taking an interest in sports, being insular and less comfortable in galus? I have many litvish friends who are paragons of all of those values, and chassidish friends who are not. And vice versa. Drawing these assumptions, and then unfairly judging the writer for “elevating lifestyle seeking to spirituality seeking” completely misses the nuance contained in both the letter and the responses.

      Flippantly suggesting that any supposed issue can easily be resolved by the woman independently taking on practices that are not the norm for her community is ignoring the likelihood that what she’s missing is like-minded peers, and/or the understanding and acceptance within her family unit that her interests are outside the cookie-cutter mold they’re used to.

      So, dear “I’m Stuck,” this one’s for you. While I’m not in your situation, I get where you’re coming from and do not think you’re just looking for a driver’s license. My advice to you would be to study the responses to your letter because every word is gold. The only assumption I would make about you is that you’re still relatively young, and might have found their comments unrealistic or out of touch, but I encourage you to keep an open mind and try some of their suggestions. You may be pleasantly surprised.

    2. Avatar
      Chaya R. Porges

      While I immensely enjoyed the article “I’m Stuck,” with a question written by a chassidish woman who doesn’t feel spiritually fulfilled in her community, I was left extremely confused by a letter written in response.

      The woman in “I’m Stuck” was talking about spiritual growth and connection with Hashem. But the letter writer, who questioned the woman’s sincerity in seeking spiritual connection, seems to equate connection and growth with minhagim or chumras, i.e., yoshon, insularity, zman tefillah, driver’s license, a longer sheitel…

      Connection with Hashem is not necessarily, or should I say only, acquired by the above. Those are details. Some more important details, some less important details, but details nonetheless. With an exception of the point of simchah shel mitzvah, the letter writer did not touch upon one more fundamental aspect of chassidus. Authentic chassidus is full of depth, and a great path to spirituality. I was raised chassidish, and chassidus has been a major catalyst of growth for me.

      I would venture to say that this kind of attitude is what’s alienating and disillusioning women like the original letter writer. If we created a system where chassidus is all about chumras and minhagim, where have we left room for spiritual connection and authentic chassidus?

      I would also like to note that for some reason, whenever there is any negativity or perceived negativity, toward the chassidish system, there will inevitably be a backlash. I fail to understand why acknowledging that we might have an issue is so painful. If the only way we can stay in this system is if we perceive it as flawless, then that would arguably be our biggest flaw of all.

  4. Avatar
    R. S.

    I really appreciated the “I’m Stuck” article and all of the thought-provoking responses. It was particularly interesting to hear from Baila Vorhand, who expressed that she is able to relate to the questioner’s internal dynamics.

    I would, however, like to take issue with one word in the piece. I’m sure this was not Baila’s intent, but writing “not the typical chassidish woman” to describe someone who possesses intellectual and spiritual depth is nothing but derogatory speech.

    Why was the word “chassidish” necessary there? Either these qualities are not typical of any woman — or any individual, perhaps — or they may be present but are not necessarily obvious to others, being that this is a lonely journey. As Rebbetzin Shlomtzy Weiss so beautifully explains, the feeling of being individual, of feeling unique, is less about the external details and more about an internal emotion. The word chassidish in that context only helped feed more into the erroneous stereotype about chassidus, in general, and about chassidish women, in particular. If we see such assumptions in the mainstream media, that’s one thing, but to find it in a frum publication and expressed by a chassidish woman, no less, was hurtful.

    As a chassidish woman who views herself as both intellectual and spiritual, I also found this statement ironic. While many associate chassidus today as a list of garb-related rules, what this approach to Yiddishkeit has actually brought to the world is how to specifically channel intellectual depth and spirituality toward avodas Hashem. I personally know several women who actually connected to chassidus davka because of their intellectual and spiritual profundity. They were yearning for more and found their answers here.

    Chassidish teachings can be helpful to any and all Yidden, regardless of their affiliation. As Miriam Kosman noted, how we connect to Hashem and to our spirituality has little to do with our outer appearance. Anyone, and everyone, can benefit from the direction that works for them. The Ba’al Shem Tov’s vision was not to create an exclusive, insular division of Judaism. Rather, in his desire to help every Yid connect to our Creator, he simply offered a direction in doing so, one that is not mutually exclusive to any affiliation.

    May each of us merit finding the direction we seek in leading a life of spiritual and emotional fulfillment,

    1. Avatar
      Baila Vorhand

      I want to explain why someone would experience their particular chassidish group as being too constricting, since some letter writers had a hard time understanding how this could legitimately be.

      The Baal Shem Tov brought a great light down to this world, one that borrowed from the era of Mashiach. There were two parts to this light. One was a series of revolutionary messages for the simple people — the general population, that stressed, as the letter writer put it, avodah b’simchah — Hashem loves you, He sees the good in you, hope is never lost, every act of effort is treasured, rejoice in being a Jew, etc. Simultaneously, he disseminated deep kabbalistic teachings (which actually serve as the intellectual backbone for the above-mentioned revolutionary messages).

      Among his students, there was a sharp divide whether these teachings should be taught to the masses or reserved for the few and worthy. The Baal HaTanya spread the teachings of abstract, intellectual penimiyus haTorah, while others were sharply opposed. (“Who was right?” Rav Moshe Wolfson shlita asks his bochurim in the Tanya shiur. “Both, of course. For some, the less intellectual, more emotional and practical path is ideal, for others the intellectual-abstract.”) This letter is not the place to explain the reasons for each of these positions, (you can contact me for further explanation) but they deeply affected the type of communities and then dynasties that these tzaddikim and their descendants formed.

      In addition, when chassidus reached a region, it took on the culture of that region, which is why Gur (Poland) is so different from Chabad (Lithuania) and Satmar (Hungary) and Belz (Galicia). In certain of these regions there was a huge emphasis on tzniyus and chumros. Sometimes this emphasis was combined with an ideological opposition to mass dissemination of abstract penimiyus haTorah.

      So, it is very possible for someone to be born into a group that is “rich and fulfilling” for many, that starves and aggravates their souls because of the lack of intellectual profundity in the teachings readily available and its emphasis on stringencies. (Of course, the opposite can also be true. Someone with a more practical nature can feel disenfranchised if the group they are born into stresses only, or mostly, the abstract.)

      Please don’t knock the challenges of other people just because you don’t understand them.