The Endless Quest: Atah Hor’eisa

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The Endless Quest

It was Simchat Torah, and the disciples of Rabbi Mendel of Horodok, many of whom had journeyed for weeks to spend the joyous festival with their Rebbe, were awaiting his entrance to the synagogue for the recital of the Atah Hor’eisa verses and the hakafot procession. Yet the Rebbe did not appear. Hours passed, and still Rabbi Mendel was secluded in his room.

Finally, they approached Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, who had studied with Rabbi Mendel in Mezeritch under the tutelage of the Great Maggid.[1] Perhaps Rabbi Schneur Zalman, who was revered and loved by Rabbi Mendel, would attempt what no other chassid would dare: enter the Rebbe’s room and ask him to join his anxiously awaiting followers.

When Rabbi Schneur Zalman entered Rabbi Mendel’s study, he found the chassidic master deeply engrossed in his thoughts. “The chassidim await you,” said Rabbi Schneur Zalman. “Why don’t you join them for the hakafot?”

“There are a hundred meanings to the verse Atah Hor’eisa,”[2] cried Rabbi Mendel, “And I do not yet fully understand them all. I cannot possibly come out to recite the verse without a proper comprehension of its significance!”

“Rebbe!” said Rabbi Schneur Zalman. “When you will reach a full comprehension of the hundred meanings of Atah Hor’eisa, you will discover another hundred meanings you have yet to comprehend…”

“You are right,” said Rabbi Mendel, rising from his seat. “Come, let us go to hakafot.”

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[1]. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok (also called Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk) and Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi were both disciples of the Great Maggid, Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch, the second leader of the Chassidic movement. Following the Maggid’s passing in 1772, Rabbi Schneur Zalman regarded Rabbi Mendel as his master and mentor. In 1777, Rabbi Mendel led a group of more than 300 chassidim to settle in the Holy Land. Rabbi Schneur Zalman was originally part of the group, but Rabbi Mendel convinced him to remain behind and assume the leadership of the chassidic community in White Russia and Lithuania.

[2]. Atah Horeisa (“You have been shown…”) is the first of an anthology of seventeen verses recited as an introduction to the hakafot (joyous procession and dance with the Torah scrolls around the reading table) of Simchat Torah. The verse (Deuteronomy 4:35) reads: “You have been shown to know that Havayeh is Elokim, there is none else beside Him.” Chassidic teaching contains dozens of discourses and thousands of pages explaining the concepts contained in this verse.

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