A Heart Afire
stories and teachings of the early Hasidic masters
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: Jewish Publication Society
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We wish to give a heartfelt thank you to those who have helped us with this book: to Rabbi Arthur Green, for writing the foreword and making helpful suggestions; to Maggid Yitzhak Buxbaum, for permission to adapt his stories of Adel Ashkenazi; to Rabbi Leah Novick, who also imparted stories of Adel to us; to Maggid Michael Kagan
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It was many years ago, somewhere on the now far side of my own forty years’ wandering that I first encountered Jiri Langer’s Nine Gates to the Chassidic Mysteries. That collection of stories, written by a Jewish seeker from Prague who had “gone East” and become a Belzer Hasid in the years before World War I, made a great impression on me. The warmth and love he felt for the Hasidic masters, their lives, teachings
A Note to the Reader
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This work is a collaboration between two authors, a fact that raised numerous questions with regard to “voice” in our introductions and commentaries. In very objective studies, multiple authors are common and voice is less an issue, as most of an objective work is written in the third person. However, this is a very subjective and personal look at Hasidic teachings and stories; thus it was necessary...
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In 2005, I made a pilgrimage with my youngest son to the graves of the great Hasidic Rebbes of the 18th century—the Ba’al Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezritch, Pinhas of Koretz, and many others. My intention was to bring the spirituality of Jewish Renewal and Neo-Hasidism back to the land of my birth and thesource of its inspiration in these holy men. My sense was that if what is called...
Part I. The Hidden Tradition and the Ba’al Shem Tov
1. A Hidden Light: The Ba’alei Shem and the Hidden Tzaddikim
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When we think of the Ba'al Shem Tov, we usually think of him as something new and without precedent in Judaism. But this is not entirely accurate. As we mentioned in the introduction, Judaism had already known various Hasidic movements before the time of the Ba’al Shem Tov. According to the Hasidic tradition, especially as it was taught by my Rebbe, Yosef...
2. A Heart Afire: The Revelation of the Ba’al Shem Tov
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After the Ba'al Shem Tov's long apprenticeship, the time had finally come for him to reveal himself to the world. But how was this man who had spent most of his life learning to hide going to go about making himself known? How was he going to reveal the message he was born to give and do it without it leading directly into the ego inflation he most feared? It was a difficult problem; one that he shared...
3. The Wheel of Fate and Fortune: Whispers of the Ba’al Shem Tov
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In many tales, the Ba’al Shem Tov plays a supporting role, often showing up only to bring things into focus for someone else. This seems to have been a major part of his teaching, especially for those who were not among his inner circle, or who were just on the periphery of it. It is in these ma’asiot that we find the Ba’al Shem Tov who was so appealing to the popu-...
Part II. The Circle of the Ba’al Shem and the Maggid of Mezritch
4. A Knowledge of Fire: Adel Ashkenazi, the Daughter of the Ba’al Shem Tov
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As we begin to move into the next generation of Hasidism, looking at the successors of the Ba’al Shem Tov, we would like to include someone whose place as a true heir of the Ba’al Shem Tov has long been overlooked.1 Of course, we are talking about his daughter, Adel Ashkenazi (ca. 1720–ca. 1787). Often much is made of how the Ba’al Shem Tov’s son, Tzvi Hirsh,2 was unable to carry his mantle after his death, while...
5. Awake in the Dark of Night: Pinhas of Koretz, the Silent Sage
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One of the greatest of teh Ba'al Shem Tov’s Hasidim and colleagues was Reb Pinhas of Koretz (1726–1791). Though little is known of his birth or childhood, we do know something about his grandfather, Pinhas Shapira, who lived a lifestyle consistent with that of the tzaddikim nistarim. It is said that the elder Pinhas was “neither a rabbi nor a communal leader, neither the author of books nor the head of a...
6. A Bear in the Forest: Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezritch
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At last we come to Reb Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezritch, the successor of the Ba’al Shem Tov and, in many ways, the architect of the Hasidic movement as we know it today. He was not like his Rebbe in education, in body, in temperament, or even in mind, but his master led him to the same well from which he himself had drunk, and in...
7. The Thirteenth Gate: The Great Maggid and the Voice of the Shekhinah
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As we approach the torrah of the Maggid of Mezritch, we must remember to contemplate the teachings with an expanded awareness (mohin d’gadlut) and a “right-making” mind-set. We have already seen in the teachings of the Ba’al Shem Tov and Pinhas of Koretz that Hasidic Torah does not often come with chapter headings or in a clear development of ideas. It is not a left-brain process. Hasidic Torah is...
Part III. The Circle of the Maggid and The Rebbe King
8. The Heavens of the Angel: The Lonely Path of Avraham the Malakh
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After the passing of the Maggid, there were some who looked to his son, Avraham, to lead them, for he was truly great even among the inner circle of his father. Nevertheless, he had no desire to become the leader of the Hasidic movement or even of a single Hasid.1 It is difficult to express what this means in Hasidism without borrowing from the language of Hinduism, for Hasidism has little experience of this...
9. Beggars and Kings: Elimelekh of Lizhensk and His Brother, Zushya of Anipol
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After the death of Maggid of Mezritch, there would be no single successor or sole leader of the Hasidic movement in the Ukraine, nor was it necessary to have a unifying personality to hold it all together. Hasidism would now survive through numbers and diversity; the Maggid had trained a corps of uniquely talented disciples and sent them into Poland and Russia to spread the holy message...
10. The King’s Counsel: In the Court of the Rebbe Reb Melekh
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In the previous chapter, we explored Reb Elimelekh's role as an advocate for his people, but now we would like to turn to the ways in which he trained his Hasidim. For Reb Elimelekh continually emphasized the unique and intimate relationship that existed between the Hasid and Rebbe, believing that they were bound together at the level of the soul. And, as we mentioned earlier, many of the great Rebbes...
Epilogue: The Three Pillars
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In this work, we have attempted to represent the evolutionary flow of the Hasidic spirit through the stories and teachings of three early Hasidic masters and their disciples—the Ba’al Shem Tov, the wellspring of Hasidism; the Maggid of Mezritch, the teacher and organizer of Hasidism; and the Rebbe Reb Melekh, the disseminator of Hasidism. From these...
Appendix: The Tree of Life
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About the Authors
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Zalman Scachter-Shalomi, better known as Reb Zalman, was born in Zholkiew, Poland, in 1924. His family fled the Nazi oppression in 1938 and finally landed in New York City in 1941. Descended from a distinguished family of Belzer Hasidim, he became a HaBaD Hasid as a teenager while still living in Antwerp, Belgium. He was later ordained by HaBaD-Lubavitch in 1947 and became one...
How This Book Was Written
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WHEN PEOPLE READ THE LIKKUTEI MAHARAN OF REB Nahman of Bratzlav, the great open secret is that much of what is being read comes from his Hasid, Reb Nosson of Nemirov. Only occasionally do we find the original writing of Reb Nahman. It is not that one is not learning Reb Nahman’s teaching, but that the work Likkutei Maharan is itself a fusion of the two. In this way, Reb Nosson has made Reb Nahman...
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Publication Year: 2009