Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (Besht) –
The founder of Chassidism, the Besht single handedly reinvigorated
mystical Judaism in a demoralizing period. He emphasized the
power of each individual soul; the concepts of love of your
fellow; serving G-d with joy; Divine Providence and perpetual
creation. The Besht’s great student, Rabbi Dovber, the
Maggid of Mezritch, continued his legacy and passed it on
to his many students, who became the founders of each of their
respective Chassidic dynasties.
~ 1698: Born on 18 Elul, in Okup, Ukraine on the Polish-Russian
border, to Eliezer and Sarah.
Rabbi Eliezer was one of the ‘hidden tzaddikim.’
~ 1703: Orphaned of both parents at age five. Placed in the
care of the community.
~ Becomes a teacher’s assistant at a young age.
~ Aged 14, joins a group of ‘hidden tzaddikim’
(Nistarim) led by Rabbi Adam of Ropshitz.
~ Aged 18, introduces new service for the Nistarim,
namely to devote themselves to the
education of Jewish children.
~ Becomes the spiritual leader of the Nistarim. Directs
them to now focus on the education of
~ Marries Leah Rachel (daughter of renowned Talmudist, Ephraim
of Brody) with whom he
has a son and daughter. Moves to the Carpathian Mountains.
~ 1724-1734: Leads a secluded life dedicated to intensive
study of the Torah. Receives
instruction from Achiya of Shilo, the ancient prophet of
King David's time, who appears
regularly to teach him the secrets of the Torah.
~ 1734: Begins to teach publicly at age thirty-six. Settles
in Talust and later in Medzhibuzh in
the western Ukraine. This marks the birth of Chassidism.
~ His main student and subsequent successor is Rabbi Dov Baer,
the Maggid of Mezeritch.
~ 1760: Passes away on Shavuot in Medzhibuzh, at age 62.
Love your Fellow
Living with Joy
Non-ascetism; transforming the material
Some Concurrent events in History:
1700-10 The Enlightenment - The Age of Reason: The rationalist,
liberal, humanitarian, and scientific trend of the 18th
Century. Representatives include: Voltaire, J.J. Rousseau,
Adam Smith, Swift, Hume, Kant; and in America, Thomas Paine,
Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. The social and political
ideals they presented were enforced by enlightened despots
such as Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, Catherine II of Russia,
and Frederick II of Prussia.
1700-10: Abraham Darby's discovery that coke (from coal) can
be used instead of charcoal for smelting will contribute immeasurably
to England's Industrial Revolution ~ Isaac Newton, pioneer
of mathematics and physics, is knighted ~ Johan Sebastian
Bach composes ~ Trade across the world's oceans booms ~ Britain's
Caribbean colonies absorb approximately 20,000 slaves a year.
1720-29 Inoculation against smallpox is successful ~ foundations
of photography laid when German chemist J.H. Schulze establishes
that silver salts darken when exposed to light ~ Methodism
conceived by John Wesley ~ Printing press introduced in Constantinople
facilitates distribution of new books and ideas throughout
1730-39: John Kay invents fly shuttle, paving way for larger,
faster looms cutting labor costs in half ~ Essay on Man
penned by Alexander Pole, including the words, "Hope
springs eternal in the human breast." ~ Britain's witchcraft
statutes repealed - rotational system for crops devised greatly
increasing productivity of land.
1740-49: Eight year War of Austrian Succession in Europe ~
Princeton University founded ~ Uprising of Black slaves in
New York ~ Benjamin Franklin discovers the electrical nature
of lightning ~ French and Indian Wars in American colonies.
The Baal Shem Tov, like the Arizal, did not write his
teachings. They were recorded by his students and passed on
from generation to generation through Rebbes and Chassidim.
Much of what we know is from the writings of the Baal Shem
Tov's foremost disciple, Rabbi Yakov Yosef of Polonoye, the
author of the first Chassidic work ever published, Toldos
Yakov Yosef. He also published Ben Poras Yosef,
Tzafnas Paneach, and Kesones Pasim. Other major
sources for the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov are Kesser
Shem Tov, Tzava’as Harivash, Magid Devarav L'Yakov
(written by the Mezericher Maggid, the Baal Shem Tov's
successor), Degel Machaneh Ephraim, and Ohr HaMei'ir.
Some Resources in English:
www.baalshemtov.com - some interesting material
Schochet, J. I. Tzava'at Harivash [The Testament of
Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov], Kehot Publications, 1998, Brooklyn.
Hilsenrad, Zalman Aron. The Baal Shem Tov, Kehot Publications,
Brooklyn, New York.
Kaplan, Aryeh. Chassidic Masters, Maznaim Publishing Corp.
1994, Brooklyn, New York.
Kaplan, Aryeh. The Light Beyond [Adventures In Hassidic Thought],
Maznaim Publishing Corp., 1981 Brooklyn, New York.
Rabin, Moshe. Seeker of Slumbering Souls - Stories of the
Baal Shem Tov, Ufaratzta Publications, 2000, Israel.
Carlebach, Shlomo. Shlomo's Stories, Jason Aronson Inc., 1996,
Majeski, Shlomo. The Chassidic Approach to Joy, Sichas in
English, Brooklyn, New York.
 Spiritual pillars of the universe
who exist in every generation, unknown to the general population.
The “Nistarim” were pious and learned people.
They disguised themselves as simple folk so that they could
mix with the poor and unlearned in order to spread the teachings
of Torah and uplift people both physically and spiritually.