On their way through Ruzhin, a group of Jews from Sanik who were opposed to the ways of the chasidim decided to call on Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin in order to enjoy a little argument with him about what they perceived were the deviant innovations of the chasidic movement.

"We, at least, walk in the path of G‑d," they began. "We set aside times for the study of Torah; we pray the Shacharit morning prayer with a minyan at daybreak; and when prayers are over, while we are still wearing our talit and tefilin, we settle down to study Mishnah. But the chasidim – not only do they pray after the statutory time, but when they have done their prayers they sit down to drink vodka together. And then they call themselves Chasidim, which means 'pious ones', and us they call misnagdim, their antagonists. Why, it should be the other way round!"

The rebbe's attendant, who was standing nearby, could not contain himself….

The rebbe's attendant, who was standing nearby, could not contain himself and came out with his own jocular yet passionate reply: "You misnagdim serve the Creator frigidly - you are as lacking in warmth as a corpse, G‑d forbid. And everyone knows that after a death the traditional custom is to study Mishnah for the elevation of the departed soul. But when chasidim serve their Maker, be it ever so little, at least they do it with enthusiasm, and their heart is on fire, just as a living man is full of warmth – and doesn't a living man need a drop of vodka now and again?"

The Rebbe of Ruzhin quickly interjected: "This answer, of course, is not to be taken seriously. Allow me to explain.

"The fact is that from the day on which the Temple was destroyed, it is prayer that substitutes for the sacrifices which can no longer be offered, as it is written: 'And our lips will compensate for oxen.' Moreover, the Sages teach us that the daily prayer services were timed so as to correspond to the daily sacrifices. Just as a sacrifice is rendered invalid by an improper thought, and becomes an abomination which is not acceptable On High, so too is a man's prayer invalidated by the admixture of an alien thought.

"The Evil Inclination therefore devises various stratagems by which to introduce all manner of alien thoughts into the mind of the worshiper in order to distract him. And that is why the chasidim invented a counter-strategy of their own. After their prayers they sit down to drink vodka together and wish each other l'chaim; and as each man gives expression to what he most needs, his friends says: 'May G‑d grant your request!' Now according to the law of the Torah, prayer may be uttered in any language. So the chasid thinks that this toasting is a mere bodily activity and does not even realize that this is prayer!"

Editor's note:
The traditional understanding is the that it is the opponents of Chasidim who first referred to themselves as Misnagdim at the same time that they derisively came up with the label of Chasidim for the fledging movement.

Based on Sippurei Chassidim by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin and other oral sources.

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