The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

“Afflictions of Love” according to Lithuanian Mussar Thought

“Afflictions of Love” According to Lithuanian Musar Thought

Gershon Greenberg

A cohesive body of thought regarding the theme of “sufferings of love” (Berakhot 5a) (identified with Din and Rahamim/Hesed) emerged across the years and geographical distance in the Lithuanian Musar yeshiva world – a cohesion enabled by students and faculty who migrated between yeshivas; and by common mentors: Simhah Zissel (Broidy) Ziv (Kelme), and in turn, of Natan Tsevi Finkel (Slabodka), and Yeruham Levovits (Mir).

It was rooted in deliberations about divine attributes; the creation of the world; the covenantal relation between God and the people of Israel across time; and divine intervention into individual sinful behavior. A dialectical dynamic between suffering (Din) and love (Rahamim/Hesed) was operative across these four dimensions.

With creation, the unified divine attribute of Din-Rahamim (Avraham Grodzinsky) yielded to Rahamim’s displacing Din (Ya’akov Lessin), leaving Din outside history with God (Yitshak Hutner), or related to non-being (Shimon David Pinkuss). Din appeared as Hester panim in a world based upon Hesed (Eliezer Luft). Within the arena of metahistory, God suffered with Israel (Efrayim Sokolover); Din implied Rahamim (Yehezkel Sarna); Din was modified by Hesed (Aharon Kotler),and implemented temporarily while Rahamim endured (Ya’akov Ruderman). God brought suffering in an act of Hesed (Zalman Sorotskin) to effectuate positive change on the individual level (Hayim Elazary). As to righteous suffering: No Tsaddik was entirely sinless; and this-worldly suffering was minor vis a vis horrors of the world to come (Mosheh Rozenshtayn). Suffering was also a matter of shattering the Kelippah around the inner spiritual spark, to achieve Devekut (Eliyahu Dessler).

Rahamim as Ha’arat panim remained beyond Din as Hester panim, awaiting Israel’s break-through. With redemption, Din would be transformed into Rahamim. Rahamim (Hesed) was the essence of creation at the beginning of time, and would be the essence of redemption when time came to an end (Yeruham Levovits)