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* The Lines of Sunlight Shiver (poem)
THE LINES OF SUNLIGHT SHIVER
Beauty fades, but not
Wisdom tires, but not
Passion sinks, but not
Vision breaks, but not
Religion blanks, but not
HOW THE MAGGID CAME TO THE BAAL SHEM TOV
There are two versions that tell how Rabbi Dov Ber, the great Maggid of Mezeritch, became a student of the Baal Shem Tov. The first version, told by most Hasidim, is as follows: Rabbi Dov Ber was a poor melamed, a teacher, in the hamlet of Tartshin (in the Volhin district, not far from Ludmir and Kovle).
That time was the era of maggidim--preachers. These preachers used to travel from town to town, reprimanding and reproving the Jews. One of these preachers was the father of a boy who was later to become a famous Hasidic rebbe, Rabbi Mendele Vitebsker. Once, this preacher came to Tartshin, where he heard Reb Ber teaching his students. The preacher was a holy man who realized (through ruach hakodesh, the holy spirit) that Rabbi Ber was teaching his students' souls more than he was their bodies.
So the preacher asked Reb Ber to take his son, the young genius, Reb Mendele, as his student. Reb Ber teacher agreed, and Reb Mendele became his favorite student. So deeply did Reb Ber value Reb Mendele that when the Baal Shem Tov was revealed, Reb Ber sent Reb Mendele to determine whether it would be worthwhile to travel to the Baal Shem Tov.
When Reb Mendele came to the Baal Shem Tov, the Baal Shem Tov told him a weekday, worldly story, and then asked Reb Mendele if he understood it.
"No," Reb Mendele replied.
And when he came back to his rabbi, Reb Ber, he reported on the great holiness and sharp mind of the Baal Shem Tov.
When Reb Ber came to the Baal Shem Tov, the Baal Shem Tov asked him if he possessed any understanding of Kabbalah.
Reb Ber replied, "Yes."
So the Baal Shem Tov showed him a profound passage in the holy book, Eitz Chaim. Reb Ber immediately explained it correctly. But the Baal Shem Tov told him: "This kind of learning is a body without a soul." He himself went over the passage from Eitz Chaim, and Reb Ber literally saw a fire from heaven circling them and angels flying in the room.
At that time, Reb Ber accepted the Baal Shem Tov as his teacher.
Chasidishe Maasiyos, pp. 30-1
AN ELIXIR OF LIFE AND A DRUG OF DEATH
The concept of evolution of existence and of all beings both depresses and elevates our spirit. Within ourselves, an elixir of life and a drug of death are immersed together.
When we turn to the past, we see the degradation that had existed then. We also see that as we stand now--morally, intellectually, physiologically--we surpass that past. Then in one regard, our mind grows self-satisfied; our moral restraints grow feeble. Regarding our present moral level, we claim--when struck by the evil spirit of some desire--that it is beyond our measure: much more than can be expected of creatures like us, who come from an animalistic nature and a coarse wildness.
In contrast, the outlook of evolution relating to the future exalts and elevates us: literally, to such a moral height that it is right that we think of ourselves in accordance with our understanding of the greatness of humanity at the beginning of its existence, of humanity's divine dwelling-place before its exile--in that primeval era--from the garden of Eden.
The more that we rise in knowledge and wisdom, in learning Torah and in good character traits, the more does our moral sense--intellectual and imaginative--soar. We proceed to the future. Automatically and continuously, the concept of evolution acts upon us, straightening our ways and supporting our moral faculties, until we enter palaces of holiness and purity with supernal might, filled with the power of God.
Then, the outlook of the past girds us with a strength of fear: we consider in our heart the terrible degradation of the past. We feel that if we disgrace our ways, we may fall back to that same dark degradation, rather than--by rectifying our ways and actions, private and communal--beholding a great light that shines forever, rising without end, substantial before us.
Orot Hakodesh II, p. 543
RABBI NACHMAN'S JOURNEY TO THE HOLY LAND
We will never penetrate the Holy of Holies of the Baal Shem Tov souls if we do not recognize them as the heralds of the Messiah. They were not merely dreamers of the messiah, as we say of great seekers, but people who actually paved a path for the royal messiah. Some paved a path with unceasing self-sacrifice; others with supernatural love and divine union; others with mystical clarifications and raising of sparks; some with seeking new paths to battle the darkness of the world; a few with simple faith and with unceasing prayer that comes from the deepest depths and rises to the greatest heights; a few others with the holiness of the land of Israel, with the return of the daughter of the king to her palace, the return of God's Presence to her dwelling place in her land.
Rabbi Nachman was one of those seekers who travel many paths at once in order to come to the summit: to bring the redemption of the world by first bringing the redemption of the people of Israel. He wanted to drive away the thick clouds of impurity with the great light of consciousness: not the consciousness of the secular world, but the consciousness of holiness. He was the great man of prayer, the reviver and renewer of the old Psalms spirit; the great man of simplicity, the Jew with a truly broken heart, the poor man who wraps himself in prayer. And at the same time, he was the stormer of heaven, the conqueror of angels and souls, a man who wished to uncover the last secrets of creation. All this was for him linked inextricably with the land of Israel- -not only with the heavenly land, but, as he once put it, "precisely the physical land of Israel, with its houses and stones."
The journey of the Baal Shem Tov to the land of Israel and his return from there, due to great spiritual opposition; the journey of Rabbi Nachman Horodenke and its surrounding legend; the relationship by marriage between "Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur of the tribe of Yehudah" and "the kingdom of the house of Dovid"- -these and many other tales did Rabbi Nachman as a child hear about his elders. Add to this his brilliant mind and great poetic imagination; the weeping and pain of generations for the suffering of God's Presence; his fasting, asceticism and meditation in forests and caves--all of this must have brought him to the thought: "Although I am not the messiah, I must bring him. To accomplish this, I must do as my elders did when they attempted to bring him. To do so, they travelled to the land of Israel. Therefore, I must travel there as well. They were not able to attain their goal, for they could not conquer the spiritual opponents. So I must somehow find a way. They took circuitous routes. I must surpass them in that. It was precisely Yaacov, the 'man of simplicity,' who succeeded in taking from Esav the birthright and the blessings."
Rabbi Nachman's journey to the land of Israel was the journey of a man engaged in a bitter struggle with a hidden enemy.
The enemy's net is spread across the world and he has an endless number of spies and scouts. You must constantly stand on guard, armed from head to toe, never forgetting for one moment that the enemy lurks, waiting for a favorable moment. In addition, you must be able to fool the enemy. You must be able to fall to the ground to avoid his bullets. You must be able to shift your position often, so that when the enemy attacks one position, you are somewhere else. You must be able to encircle the enemy and attack him. You must be able to sometimes cede and withdraw in the best possible order. You must know all the weak points of the enemy, and know when and how to attack. The enemy should never know your true plans and means.
This explains the unusual conduct of Rabbi Nachman throughout his entire journey to the land of Israel. This explains his falling into lower states of mind many times during his journey, as he himself and his students tell; his strife with others and his refusal to tell who he really is; his childish activities at certain moments, such as when he played at war with children in Constantinople; and, most of all, the fears that would fall upon him often, and the great strain he was under at almost every moment of his journey.
to be continued...
Reb Nachman Braslaver, pp. 142-44
WHATEVER CHAIR I SEE
Walking on the surface of the sun,
Because I could not forget you,
All translations and original material. Copyright 1998