Over 250 years ago, a revolutionary movement arose at the center of the Jewish world. With remarkable speed, the Chassidic movement spread throughout Eastern Europe and White Russia (now Belarus). Chassidut had a profound, and continuing, impact on Jewish spiritual thought and practice, changing it as no other movement has.


What is Chassidut? What is its innovation? Chassidut strives for consciousness of one’s inner essence and simplicity, in relation to Torah, man and divinity, and for this, there are no adequate words or direct definitions. 


Initially, Chassidut was an all-encompassing approach to life, a distinct way of praying, studying and living that emphasized cleaving to and serving God with joy. Because it deals with man’s inner essence, Chassidut defies easy definition or description. Our understanding is further complicated by the fact that the first generations of Chassidic masters, on principle, wrote little or not at all. Because the movement placed such store on the direct, intimate communication between master and disciple, it was felt that writing only created a barrier.


It is a basic Kabbalistic concept that the human soul is, in a manner of speaking, a spark of Divine revelation in the world and that each human being is a microcosm of the entire universe.


Chassidut shows how the rarefied teachings of the Kabbalah, which speak to the macro-universe, can be adapted into a structure with ethical and practical meaning for our individual lives.


In this way, Chassidut is a form of applied Kabbalah.


Just as the Revealed Law frames the behavior of our bodies, the internalization of Kabbalistic notions of the Hidden Law can attune us to our soul, educating it to connect with the Divine. In this model, the power of Kabbalah is harnessed not to serve our own desires but to align them with the wishes of the Almighty.


One of the most important Chassidic works is called Zohar Chai, “The Living Zohar.”


That is what Chassidut does: it gives Kabbalah life by translating it into something meaningful in one’s relationships with others, and most important, something that can quell the strife within one’s own soul and calm the struggle of one’s inner being.


Excerpts culled from books, lectures and articles by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz