Page 73 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 19

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T H R E E PATHS IN HAS I D I SM
By A
brah am
B
erg er
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A ND a riyer went out of Eden to water the garden, and
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from thence it was parted and became four (score)
heads.”
Last year we commemorated the 200th anniversary of the
death of Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, “the
river out of Eden.”
It is now proposed to sketch brief portraits of three interpreters
of the hasidic heritage who gave the river a bend, a boost and
a twist: Rabbi Shneor Zalman of Ladi (1747-1812), Rabbi Yaakov
Yitzhak of Przysucha (1766-1813), and Rabbi Nachman of
Bratzlav (1772-1810).
Rabbi Shneor Zalman of Ladi
Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg, on one of his periodic visits to
his master, Rabbi Dov Baer of Meseritz, became aware of a
novice, barely twenty years old and with a reputation for great
rabbinic learning, who had recently come from a small town
in White Russia. He inquired about the inner nature of this
quiet and unassuming lad, and the master replied, “It is much
easier to penetrate into a difficult passage of the Zohar than to
fathom the depths of Shneor Zalman’s personality.”
As Shneor Zalman passed through the crucible of experience,
his character became more apparent. He was a man of firm will,
yet unassuming; a mystic possessing a logical and systematic
mind; withdrawn, yet a proven statesman; sensitive to criticism,
but of an imperturbable cool exterior; a valiant fighter, yet always
working for peace; beloved disciple, yet pursuing his own course.
For a number of years Rabbi Shneor Zalman was a member
of the inner circle of disciples and was very close to his master.
Rabbi Dov Baer entrusted him with the task of preparing a new
Shulhan Aruk
and selected him as a study companion for his
son Abraham, an ascetic and Kabbalist, only a few years his
senior. Shneor Zalman was twenty-five years old when the great
Preacher of Meseritz, Rabbi Dov Baer, died in December, 1772.
It was characteristic of the eminent teacher Shneor Zalman
that his first action, on returning home, was to organize a series
of small study courses. These eventually became the nucleus of
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