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Hasidic Myth on the Death of Moses and its Metamorphosis

From: Hebrew Studies
Volume 54, 2013
pp. 121-132 | 10.1353/hbr.2013.0004



Hasidic homilies contain a myth relating to Moses’ request to live on to enter into the land of Israel as motivated by his intent to perform there actions that would unify and redeem all the worlds and permanently annul the exile. His request was denied for various reasons that all go beyond the biblical account. In what is probably the myth’s earliest rendition as found in Elimelekh’s Delight, Moses had to die so that his soul might then return to the world in the form of the righteous of all the generations who study the Torah with an unblemished motivation—a description that implicitly identifies them with Hasidism’s self-image. This rendition, reflecting a basic mythic thrust that involves a paradoxical relationship between death and renewed life, also provided the young, insecure Hasidic movement with a mythic identity as a manifestation of Moses’ soul. Later, the myth underwent a startling metamorphosis. Not only is there no mention of Moses’ continued presence, but his request is denied due to his own misunderstanding of the nature of exile and the redemptive path. This metamorphosis may indicate that with Hasidism’s continued growth, it no longer felt the need for a mythic identification with Moses and could even extol the righteous by contrasting their path with Moses’ failed messianic aspirations and strategies.

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