From Rational to Metaphysical: R. Hayyim of Volozhin’s Torah Lishmah as a Radical Concept

In: The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy
Raphael Shuchat School of Basic Jewish Studies, Bar-Ilan University Ramat Gan Israel

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Many see the mithnagdim as total rationalists. Therefore it has been assumed that R. Hayyim of Volozhin’s approach to Torah study was the same. Although rationalism may be a correct characterization of the method he used in talmudic study, it does not capture how R. Hayyim understood the essence of Torah study. Some have described Nefesh ha-Hayyim as demystifying Kabbalah. I agree that R. Hayyim opposes ecstatic Kabbalah. However, already in 1972 Norman Lamm noticed that R. Hayyim saw Torah study as a form of clinging to God. In my article, I go further and demonstrate how torah lishmah for R. Hayyim is a radical idea that includes a legitimate path to unio mystica, and even a way to divine inspiration.

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