A Rosh Hashanah teaching from Rabbi Gershon Hanokh Henekh Leiner of Radzin (1831-1891)

The Shofar, the ram’s horn which is bent in the very image of our broken hearts, emits a Kol Pashut, a simple sound that imparts no particular linguistic meaning. What is the significance of this Kol Pashut? The Jewish esoteric tradition describes the process of the unfolding of speech as follows: Machshava, Kol, Dibbur; from abstract thought, to sound, to word—yet paradoxically the more developed our articulation, the more specific our words, the less potential meaning our words contain. It is the Kol Pashut, the simple voice of the Shofar that says everything by saying nothing, which interests the Radziner Rebbe. Continue reading “A Rosh Hashanah teaching from Rabbi Gershon Hanokh Henekh Leiner of Radzin (1831-1891)”

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Personal Excerpts from Silence and Voice

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…for I may be the sole Jew now amongst the generation who, following many years wandering the pathways of thought and life, following frightful torments and restlessness, has acquired the faith which they call “primitive”…

The following brief excerpts are taken from Hillel Zeitlin’s apocalyptic work Silence and Voice, published in 1936 as the threatening shadow of Nazi Germany loomed over European Jewry. Interweaving prophetic calls for repentance alongside practical solutions for the organization and resettlement of European Jewry, Zeitlin’s thunderous and at times exasperated voice expresses great frustration with the religious corruption and spiritual apathy of his peers. Indeed, at times it sounds as though he stands utterly alone in confronting an impending doom which only he perceives.  Continue reading “Personal Excerpts from Silence and Voice”

The Degel Maḥane Ephraim on Jacob and Torah Study

The following Ḥasidic homily, of Rabbi Moshe ayim Ephraim of Sudylkiv (1748-1800), explicates the vow taken by Jacob on his journey to Ḥaran. Rabbi Moshe ayim Ephraim was a grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Ḥasidic movement, and his teachings, collected in Degel Maḥane Ephraim (Korets 1810), record many traditions received from his grandfather and his disciples. Like many collections of Ḥasidic homilies, the work consists of Hebrew summaries of discourses originally delivered in Yiddish. Reflecting this process of transmission, the rudimentary Hebrew is constructed according to Yiddish syntax. The translator must take these characteristics into consideration.

In chapter 28 of Genesis, Jacob travels to Ḥaran to escape the wrath of his brother Esau, stopping to sleep at the place which would become known as Beit El. There he experiences a wondrous dream of a ladder ascending to heaven, and an assurance from God that he would be protected and ultimately return home. Following his dream, Jacob issues a vow, which is the subject of the homily.  Continue reading “The Degel Maḥane Ephraim on Jacob and Torah Study”

Ḥasidism and Individuality — The Seraph of Strilesk

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The whole field of study of various “rungs”, “roots”, and “branches” of the soul which characterizes Kabbalah and Ḥasidism is nothing more than the recognition of individuality and the absolute right of each unique personality to live and develop according to their primary, higher, eminent nature.

The following essay by Hillel Zeitlin, a feature on the legendary Ḥasidic figure Rabbi Uri, the Seraph of Strilesk, appeared in the Hebrew weekly Ba’Derekh in 1934. Zeitlin wrote frequently for the paper, including many articles on renowned Jewish figures from the past. His work is characterized both by the vast scope of his knowledge, and his ability to portray the subject in a popular style appropriate for a broad readership.

Rabbi Uri of Strilesk (1757-1826) has a special place in the corpus of Ḥasidic lore. Aside from frequent appearances in Ḥasidic tales, references to him appear in the works of his descendent and namesake Uri Tzvi Greenberg, as well as Shai Agnon. His ascetic practices and sharp personality earned him the moniker “The Seraph”, and his strident insistence on truth can be seen as a precedent for the Kotzk-Przysucha school of Ḥasidut. Continue reading “Ḥasidism and Individuality — The Seraph of Strilesk”

Paradoxical Faith: Ḥasidic Masters on Closeness to God in Moments of Distance

אבינו אבינו איך נלך כי השומר עומד בשער המלך

Our Father, Our father! How can we come to you? The guard stands watch at the royal gate!

—Niggun Kol BeYa’ar (Attributed to the Shpoler Zeide (1725-1812))

So often in our lives we seek a sense of emotional closeness to God, yet we feel so far away. In times of need or inner pain we wish to feel God’s presence, but it is not to be found. Numerous Ḥasidic masters have sought to ameliorate this sense of distance, articulating a model of what may be called “Paradoxical Faith”.  Through internalizing their teachings one may strengthen their faith, finding comfort in times of religious crisis. Continue reading “Paradoxical Faith: Ḥasidic Masters on Closeness to God in Moments of Distance”