It’s About Eliyahu HaNavi
Someone sent me a link to a chassidishe “mashpia” telling how Chassidus preceded Kabbalah(apparently all the way back to Moshe Rabbeinu) and that Kabbalah is only a tool that Chassidus uses to teach… If you are guessing by now that I was more than a bit underwhelmed, you would be guessing correctly. So let’s get down to the root of this and what it would be saying.
So Chassidus then, though supposedly pre-existing to the days of Moshe Rabbeinu(though without something like the Zohar, or other hidden literary tradition to back up that claim) springs into existance in the late 18th century entirely from the mind of the Baal Shem Tov. It stands in no line of tradition, and has no solid claim on it’s source of authority(say gilui Eliyahu HaNavi). Then to put the cherry on top, the major leaders of the generation opposed it. So divorcing Chassidus from Kabbalah really doesn’t seem that good of an idea now does it?
Now let’s talk about the source of modern Kabbalah(i.e. the Arizal). First the Arizal stood in the line of tradition, having received the tradition passed from the Amoraim to the Geonim, from the Geonim to the Rishonim, and from the Rishonim to those early Achronim who made up his teachers as well as his students. In addition to that he had gilui Eliyahu HaNavi(he was taught by Eliyahu HaNavi) as to which traditions were correct and which error had crept into, as well as the corrections for that error. This he codified in what we have today as the Kitvei HaAri, which was almost universally accepted by the leaders of the generation, so much that even Rav Yosef Karo sat under him. Which would very much be like Rav Ovadia Yosef sitting down to learn from a 37yr old Avereich somewhere.
Really it all comes down to Eliyahu HaNavi, or rather Gilui Eliyahu HaNavi. The Besht didn’t have it. Sure he had some dreams about Mashiah, but he didn’t have recognized Gilui Eliyahu HaNavi, the Arizal… well he did. Personally I think that Chassidus is an interpretation, or a revelation of one of the aspects of Kabbalah, as is the system of the Rashash, the Ramchal or the Gra. To divorce Chassidus from Kabbalah… well that is a grade A royal mistake, and the early Chassidic masters are probably rolling in their graves over it.