“Happiness itself is your service of God," taught the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidic Judaism.
“Joy is one of the keys to attaining spiritual elevation,” Cheskie Weiss of the blog Outremont Hasid tells me. “There is a saying of the Ari [Isaac ben Solomon Luria Ashkenazi] – one of the greatest propagators of Jewish mysticism in the last millennium – that everything he attained spiritually was because of the joy he had.”
Weiss moved to Montreal from Brooklyn when he married in the late 1990s.
“In the Hasidic community, you usually move to where the wife’s family lives.”
About three-quarters of the Hasidic men in Montreal are from similar communities elsewhere: Brooklyn and Israel, London in England and Melbourne in Australia. They are drawn to the renowned warmth of the Montreal Hasidic community: a warmth that Weiss ascribes in part to the reality that Montreal has the coldest weather of any place in the world where Hasidim live.
“Hasidism basically takes Jewish mysticism and brings it alive in daily life. Everything we do involves Kabbalah [that is, the mystical interpretation of the Jewish Bible]. Everything. Hasidism makes the practice of Jewish mysticism available to everybody. The founder of the Hasidic movement wanted to spiritually elevate even the simplest people. Every person has a mission in this world. Nobody is without worth. If you try to serve God with all your heart, this has major, major power in the heavens.”
The study of the Jewish scriptures and their interpretation is not only of intellectual or ethical value to the Hasidic Jews of Outremont. For them such study has a powerful mystical significance. On the one hand, the person studying is, by the means of studying, effecting positive change in the very structure of reality. On the other hand, the act of study effects an infusion of the divine into the very person of the student, elevating that person spiritually.
“When I grew up, in my home, even though my father was in business, in manufacturing, it was always in the air: he expected us to grow up Torah scholars, to study as much as possible. I try to pass that along to my children. It’s not easy: Talmud study is very, very challenging! But once you get the hang of it, you enjoy it immensely! And you’re bringing godliness into yourself.”