I am coming by my knowledge of Hasidism first hand and second hand. This is the way of Love and Joy and Community and cleaving to G-d. I think those are all good things so I am looking into it and seeing how I can incorporate those things into my life. It’s pretty rich and varied.
When I started this it was merely to be an introduction to Reb Nachman. But there is a lot more going on here like Reb Zalman, who summarized Hasidic Mystisism in a book Likutei Amarin (Book for the Common Person) or Tanya. It is through these people, the Lubavitch, that I learned, and continue to learn, Judaism. They seem to be a very good place to stop for a while. They have some very nice hats.
What is now seen as existing within “Orthodox Judaism” was then a reform movement of travelling rabbis led by Rabbi Yisroel (Israel) ben Eliezer, otherwise known as the Baal Shem Tov (Master of the Good Word) or Besht. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a bunch of wandering rabbis went from town to town reforming institutionalized Judaism telling stories. They were bringing a much older mystical tradition back into Judaism. Established Judaism had become afraid of sharing the mystical tradition because some had taken these powerful ideas too far. They were being careful. But, according to some, institutionalized Judaism of the eighteenth century was practice without a heart. Today Kabbalistic prayers are incorporated into the prayer liturgy, sometimes so beautiful that they make you cry. Sometimes (like now) just sitting around writing stuff, you know, and words of joy, in the form of prayer and song just kind of hit me, and tears of joy flow.
Elie Wiesel talks about the various personalities in “Souls of Fire – Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters” and Erez Moshe Doron tells some of the stories of Rabbi Nachman. Martin Buber discusses the whole philosophy of Hasidism from a very broad universal perspective. Of course, there is the Tanachk, The Mishnah, Gemara, Zohar, Tanya, Likutei Moharan, and a bunch of other stuff, depending upon how deep you want to go.
It’s all about ethics. Acting properly. Treating people decently. Recognizing Divine Light. And whether you start at the beginning, middle, or jump in at the deep end it all leads to the same place, and to get to that place you have to see it all as One.
Where is that place? I don’t know. I like to use the idea of The Tao, The Way, that it’s the people you meet and the things you do on the way that are important, whether you reach the final destination or not.
In saying this I am reminded of Pirkei Avot, which is a chapter in Nezikin of the Mishnah, which was a transcription of the Oral Law after the Second Temple was burnt down by the Romans in the First Century CE.
I say first century, but it is just not nice to mark Jewish events on a Xtian Calendar. Today the year is 5775 so the temple would have been destroyed in 3760, I think, and what was left of the Sanhedrin and the rabbis started writing the Oral Tradition down so it wouldn’t die. The thought, discussion, work and commentary which flows out of the Mishnah is endless. Considering “The Way”, here is some seminal Oral Law from Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers.
- “The main thing is not study, but doing.” (1:17)
- “Do not say ‘I will study when I have the time’, for perhaps you will never have time.” (2:5)
- “The day is short, the labor vast, the toilers idle, the reward great, and the Master of the house is insistent.” (2:20)
- “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it” (2:21)
It’s a good thing to commit your life to. Of course, some people (like me once) thought that it all boiled down to a picture of ten “Aspects of G-d” arranged in the shape of a tree. A tree which you can climb. But that’s not it… not completely. It’s not that simple. It is a very personal thing. Kabbalah means “recieved”, that which is given. You can chase these ideas around and around and around, and that’s a good thing, because that’s “the way”, it shows faith and commitment, but you won’t “get it” unless it is given to you.
(Of course, it won’t be given to you unless you are seeking it. Whatever you “get” don’t worry about it. Because the point is not you, it is what you give to others. Be kind and loving always.)
Peace and Love