This led to a story about a wonderful farbrengen, which was told to my friend first hand by Reb Mendel Futerfas OBM.
The farbrengen took place when Reb Mendel was in his youth (probably shortly after he was married). It was yud tes kislev, but his mashpiah was away. The young melamdim decided to hold a farbrengen in honour of the day, but no-one felt qualified to farbreng without their mashpiah present.
It started at around 10 PM, and in the absence of anyone speaking, it consisted of nigunim and alcohol.
At around 1 AM, one person finally got up and asked the group: "Yidden, what are we? Chassidim? Certainly not! Reb Binyomin Kletsker was a chossid; Reb Zalman Zesmer was a chossid, but we are certainly not chassidim!" And then he sat down, and the farbrengen continued.
At around 3 AM he stood up again: "Yidden, what are we? Chassidim? Certainly not! Are we then misnagdim? Chas veshalom! Did the Alter Rebbe have misaras nefesh so that we should be misnagdim? No way!" And then he sat down again.
At around 6 AM, he asked the question again: "Yidden, what are we? Chassidim? Certainly not! Misagdim? Chas veshalom! What are we then? Mir villen zein chassidim - we are those who want to be chassidim." And with that the all-night farbrengen ended.
Reb Mendel told my friend that this is our generation. We are not chassidim. Chas veshalom to say that we are misnagdim. We are aspirational chassidim.
When I mentioned this to another friend (so that means I have at least two) in shul on Shabbos, he commented on the similarities with the beinoni of Tanya. Do you know any beinonim? It's hard to say, especially because we don't know the very private battle between good and evil that goes on inside the mind and soul of another person. Although generally, the madreiga of beinoni is considered aspirational rather than achievable, certainly in recent generations.
And that's OK. It's OK to live life with aspirational goals that are never attained. Indeed, the beinoni could be considered an aspirational tzadik - always living life on the edge, in constant battle with his/her yetzer hora, and always just staying on top. This is consistent with the Rambam's statement that we should consider ourselves, and the entire world, to be half meritorious and half guilty.
The big challenge is the yeridas hadoros. Reb Mendel looked at the Reb Binyomins and Reb Zalmans who were a model of what a chossid was. Some of us were fortunate enough to be able to engage with and observe the elter chassidim of our generation - the Reb Mendels and others - and look to them as a model of what a chossid is/was. But sadly, that generation is dwindling away. As I look around shul, the people who represent the closest thing we have to elter chassidim are not people I aspire to be like. What then for the younger generation? And don't even get me started on our relationship with the Rebbe (will deal with that topic further in other posts).
Perhaps then, this blog is a hemshech of Reb Mendel's farbrengen, in a new form, for a new generation. A place where we can talk candidly about the challenges of being an aspirational chossid in a modern world, and hopefully find inspiration to drive us in such uncertain times.