Posts Tagged ‘Baal Shem Tov’

The Luxury of Time

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

There is a famous story about the Baal Shem Tov (Besht) and a man who was trying to pray properly. In this story, the Besht found him spending hours and hours on his morning prayers, reciting the words slowly and carefully because he did not understand what they meant. At the man’s request, the Besht attempts to teach him the meanings, only to discover that the man has already mastered the true method of prayer – to be consumed by the yearning for the Divine.

G!d gave me a gift a few weeks back – more time than I have had in many, many years. I have taken the gift and begun to use it to delve into my morning prayers in greater depth than I have ever done before.

I use the Koren siddur – highly recommended! – and I share with you the current focus of my kavannah: the prayer just before donning the tallit, which I render in the second person:

For the sake of Your unification O Holy One, blessed be You, and Your Divine Presence, in reverence and love, to unify the name Yod-Heh with Vav-Heh in perfect unity in the name of all Israel.

I am about to wrap myself in this tallit. So may my soul, by 248 limbs and 365 sinews be wrapped in the light of the tassel (hatzitzit) which amounts to 613 commandments. And just as I cover myself with a tallit in this world, so may I be worthy of holy dress and a fine garment in the World to Come in the Garden of Eden. Through the commandment of the tzitzit may my life’s-breath, spirit, soul and prayer be delivered from external impediments, and may the tallit spread its wings over them like an eagle stirring up its nest, hovering over its young. May the commandment of the tallit be considered before You, O Holy One, blessed be You, as if I had fulfilled it in all its specifics, details and intentions, as well as the 613 commandments dependent upon it, Amen, Selah.

Take the time to meditate upon these verses. Imagine them fully in your mind, whether or not you wear a tallit when doing so. Feel your life’s-breath (nefesh), your spirit (ruach), your soul (neshamah) and prayer (t’filah) stirred and sheltered by the Wings of the Eternal.

It is a luxury without measure.

The Empty Sukkah

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009
Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz (1726-1791) was one of the two most significant disciples of the Baal Shem Tov (Besht). Along with the Maggid of Mezrich, he became one of the leaders of the Hassidic movement after the Besht’s death.
His was a powerful and, some might say, intimidating personality. In fact, he preferred solitary study, and frowned upon those who interrupted him. However, as time went by he became more and more well-known, and began to be besieged with disciples and supplicants. And as the numbers of seekers grew, so did his frustration. “All” he wanted was to be left alone to pray and study!
Finally, he hit upon an idea. He prayed to Heaven with great fervor that he should become unattractive, unpopular, downright repulsive to people. So strong was his prayer that it was granted: the supplicants stopped coming to him, and before long, whenever he walked down the street people would cross to the other side rather than encounter him.
R’ Pinchas was thrilled. He dove deeper and deeper into his prayer, meditation and study, and was almost invisible during the Ten Days of Awe.
Shortly thereafter, it was time to build his sukkah, the hut in which the observant live for the week of Sukkot. Normally, there would be a host of students to help – but not this year! No one even spoke to him about the holiday, let alone offer to him. Finally, he had to hire a non-Jew to help him build it, but it was hard to even find the materials, so reluctant were his neighbors to help.
“A small price,” he thought, “for the serenity of study.” And as sundown approached, he headed to the synagogue, for it is a requirement to invite and entertain guests in the sukkah. But no one in the congregation would speak to him, let alone be his guest for dinner – not even the poor and destitute!
Dejected, he made his way back home after services, taking some small consolation from the fact that he would be visited that night by the spirit of Abraham, our Father, the first of the Ushpizin – the seven mystical visitors who attend each of the seven evenings of Sukkot in the huts of the worthy. Arriving in the sukkah, he began chanting the ritual invitation.
But Abraham did not come.
He repeated the invitation, with greater intensity, but still nothing. Finally, after pouring his soul into a third cry – some say the boughs wept at his yearning – the spirit of Abraham appeared, but stood at a distance, unwilling to enter.
R’ Pinchas urged him to enter, but he stood there silently, unmoving. “Why won’t you enter? What have I done?” R’ Pinchas begged.
“Am I not renowned for my hospitality? Was not my tent open on all sides, to receive guests from all worlds? Where are your guests? How can I enter a place where there is no loving-kindness?”
R’ Pinchas’ eyes were opened: he immediately prayed that his former wishes be revoked, and that he should instead learn the lessons of Avraham Imeinu, Abraham our Father. Soon his reputation was restored, and he was sought out by even more supplicants than before. But now, R’ Pinchas understood that the way to learn Torah was not in isolation, but in loving community, and his wisdom continued to increase.

Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz (1726-1791) was one of the two most significant disciples of the Baal Shem Tov (Besht). Along with the Maggid of Mezrich, he became one of the leaders of the Hassidic movement after the Besht’s death.

His was a powerful and, some might say, intimidating personality. In fact, in his early days he preferred solitary study, and frowned upon those who interrupted him. However, as time went by he became more and more well-known, and began to be besieged with disciples and supplicants. And as the numbers of seekers grew, so did his frustration. “All” he wanted was to be left alone to pray and study!

Finally, he hit upon an idea. He prayed to Heaven with great fervor that he should become unattractive, unpopular, downright repulsive to people. So strong was his prayer that it was granted: the supplicants stopped coming to him, and before long, whenever he walked down the street people would cross to the other side rather than encounter him.

R’ Pinchas was thrilled. He dove deeper and deeper into his prayer, meditation and study, and was almost invisible during the Ten Days of Awe.

Shortly thereafter, it was time to build his sukkah, the hut in which the observant live for the week of Sukkot. Normally, there would be a host of students to help – but not this year! No one even spoke to him about the holiday, let alone offer to him. Finally, he had to hire a non-Jew to help him build it, but it was hard to even find the materials, so reluctant were his neighbors to help.

“A small price,” he thought, “for the serenity of study.” And as sundown approached, he headed to the synagogue, for it is a requirement to invite and entertain guests in the sukkah. But no one in the congregation would speak to him, let alone be his guest for dinner – not even the poor and destitute!

Dejected, he made his way back home after services, taking some small consolation from the fact that he would be visited that night by the spirit of Abraham, our Father, the first of the Ushpizin – the seven mystical visitors who attend each of the seven evenings of Sukkot in the huts of the worthy. Arriving in the sukkah, he began chanting the ritual invitation.

But Abraham did not come.

He repeated the invitation, with greater intensity, but still nothing. Finally, after pouring his soul into a third cry – some say the boughs wept at his yearning – the spirit of Abraham appeared, but stood at a distance, unwilling to enter.

R’ Pinchas urged him to enter, but he stood there silently, unmoving. “Why won’t you enter? What have I done?” R’ Pinchas begged.

“Am I not renowned for my hospitality? Was not my tent open on all sides, to receive guests from all worlds? Where are your guests? How can I enter a place where there is no loving-kindness?”

R’ Pinchas’ eyes were opened: he immediately prayed that his former wishes be revoked, and that he should instead learn the lessons of Avraham Imeinu, Abraham our Father. Soon his reputation was restored, and he was sought out by even more supplicants than before. But now, R’ Pinchas understood that the way to learn Torah was not in isolation, but in loving community, and his wisdom continued to increase.

What is Truth?

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

It is said that the great Maggid of Mezhirech, Rabbi Dov Ber, at first was cool to the teachings and methods of the Baal Shem Tov (Besht), the founder of the Hasidic movement. The Maggid was known for his tremendous mastery of our holy writings: Tanach, Talmud, Midrash, and Kabbalah; the Besht emphasized a more experiential approach.

(more…)

Stories in Judaism – Tonight!

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Would you like to learn more about stories in Judaism? The different kinds we tell, and the different reasons we tell them? Would you like to learn some of these stories, or at least hear them told? Would you like the chance to learn how to tell a story well? Come to this special three-evening experience, and that’s exactly what you’ll get! Just bring an open heart and an open mind.

In this course, we will explore the different types and sources of stories in Judaism. Each session will be spiced with stories, as well as “tricks of the trade” for telling spiritual stories well.

The sessions will explore the use of story within and beyond Torah, as both a teaching device and a historical tool. We will examine stories and the roles they play in the Talmud and Midrashic literature, Hasidic tales – particularly those of the Baal Shem Tov – and modern stories of spirituality and mysticism.

Come join us tonight and next week at Temple Concord for a great time!