Page 75 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 19

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B
erger
— T
h r e e
P
a th s
in
H
asidism
6 9
works. Originally circulated in manuscript as individual dis­
courses, it was subsequently printed in 1797 and has since been
published in more than forty editions, the last appearing in
1960 in Jerusalem and New York.
Shneor Zalman proclaimed the study of Torah as life’s loftiest
goal, since Torah is the very essence of God. By studying and
penetrating into its mysteries, one partakes of divine food for the
soul; and by fulfilling the
mitzvot
(commandments), one evokes
the manifestation of the Shechinah, the Divine Presence.
On the practical side Shneor Zalman, like his master, curbed
the enthusiastic excesses prevalent in some hasidic circles, main­
taining that decorum and discipline must predominate even in
ecstasy. He wrote to Abraham Kolisker, his hasidic opponent,
“just as one cannot have children without a mother, so you can­
not arrive at God-fearing without introspection.”
But he also modified Rabbi Baer’s teaching in which the
status of the Zaddik occupied a position of centrality. To Shneor
Zalman the role of the spiritual leader is that of teacher and
guide, and in contrast to other Zaddikim he repudiated the role
of the Zaddik as intercessor with God for anything other than
spiritual sustenance. “None of the great sages during the long
Jewish history,” he argues in one of his epistles, “endeavored to
do more than to guide and to teach.” He contended that only
the prophets attempted more, and it was patent that Shneor
Zalman did not claim to possess the mantle of prophecy, although
other hasidic leaders did.
His vigorous and direct letters are most illuminating and
uplifting as human documents. His pastoral letters extol charity
and repentance as indispensable virtues, and in them he exhorts
his followers to refrain from seeking vengeance on their oppo­
nents. He was even tolerant enough to absolve the Gaon of Wilna
from responsibility for the spiritual boycott of the Hasidim,
although in his private letters he places the blame squarely on
the Gaon for encouraging and spearheading the unfortunate con­
flict. His letters to his adversaries are conspicuous examples of
apologetics. Their challenging contents are reminiscent of the
great Eastern Church Fathers of antiquity, or of the great rab­
binic leaders in Christian Spain.
Shneor Zalman is still the guiding force of Habad Hasidism,
and his image is vivid and indelible. Few hasidic legends have
gathered around him other than stories about his wisdom and
valor under “fire.” However, perhaps as a compensation, a num­
ber of legends have grown about his ancestors and their com­
panions who as “hidden” Zaddikim paved the way for the Baal
Shem Tov and the success of Hasidism.
Because of their emphasis upon discipline, the Habad Hasidim,
or the Lubavitcher as they are popularly called, have at times