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8 The Importance of Zaddiqim As we have seen, a distinction between religious practices which are restricted to a spiritual elite and those which are appropriate for general use plays a fundamental role in Meshullam Feibush's thought. Moreover, while this distinction expresses reservations concerning certain aspects of Dov Ber's teachings, it nevertheless has at least some basis in the Maggid of Mezeritch's own writings. However, if Meshullam Feibush has not introduced an entirely foreign element into his interpretation of Dov Ber's teachings , it is certainly the case that he gives the distinction far greater emphasis than can be found in the extant writings of his teacher. This calls for some explanation. It has already been suggested with justification that Dov Ber failed to stress that his teachings were directed specifically to a spiritual elite for two main reasons. First, as a teacher who was primarily imparting his path to disciples who did for the most part constitute a spiritual elite, he had no reason to state the obvious. Second, Dov Ber, a contemplative mystic by temperament , did not stress the social implications of his teachings, but was primarily concerned with developing a method for cultivating the inner aspects of mystical praxis which lead to immersion in divine immanencel While it would be going too far to suggest that Dov Ber was entirely unconcerned with the spiritual needs of ordinary people, the spiritual virtuoso's relationship to the masses and social role are not important issues in his teachings. From the historical perspective, it should also be noted that the establishment of Dov Ber's disciples as leaders in various parts of eastern Europe occurred , for the most part, towards the end of his life, c. 17702 Consequently, while the theological, metaphysical, and practical aspects of Dov Ber's theory of the spiritual virtuoso were particularly relevant at this time, the wider social context within which the Maggid's disciples would function had hardly begun to exist. Thus, issues of a more social nature were not nearly as relevant at this time.3 When viewed within the historical context, Dov Ber appears primarily as a theoretician and teacher of a new type of Jewish mysticism which places particular stress on self-transcendence through union with divine immanence both within and beyond the traditional boundaries of religious life. However, the transformation of his teachings 188 Uniter of Heaven and Earth into the basis for a broad and popular religious movement was left for the most part for his disciples to accomplish, primarily after his death. Meshullam Feibush's writings, with which we are directly concerned, were written precisely in the period following Dov Ber's death. At this time, a Hasidic leadership began to establish itself as religious leaders and spiritual guides who expressly identified themselves as followers of the way of the Ba'al Shem Tov and Dov Ber of Mezeritch. Consequently, it is in the Hasidic writings that were produced in this period that we should expect to find concern for those specific issues that emerged when Hasidism first began to become a bona fide social movement. Such writings, moreover, contained more than merely theoretical discussions of these issues. They reflected the real problems that were encountered when individuals began to be identified as exponents of Hasidic teachings and when these teachings themselves became available to wider audiences through their dissemination, first in manuscript, and a few years later in print. Among the first questions that had to be addressed by Hasidic thinkers during this early stage of dissemination of the teachings of Dov Ber, concerned the status of the teachings themselves. Did they constitute norms to which all Jews should aspire? If so, given their extremely high standards regarding mystical experience and dedication to spiritual life, it can hardly be imagined that Hasidism could have become a popular movement. As Meshullam Feibush himself tells us in his few references to the difficulties that were commonly encountered during his age, the average Jew could not possibly have found the time that would be required to perfect the path outlined in early Hasidic teachings. A spiritual adept, already dedicated to a life dominated by religious concerns, might be persuaded to embrace the Hasidic way in lieu of the older, more ascetic Lurianic mystical praxis. But the teachings in the form attributed to Dov Ber would have had little to offer to the typical Jew in the villages of eastern Galicia who, indeed, may not have been sufficiently...


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