Lately I have been reading Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim. In his Introduction, Buber discusses how “the core of hasidic teachings is the concept of a life of fervour, of exalted joy” and that “The world in which you live, just as it is and not otherwise affords you that association with God, which will redeem you and whatever divine aspect of the world you have been entrusted with.”
The Hasidic Tales are anecdotes, which Buber defines as “the recital of a single incident which illumines an entire destiny.”
Even though Judaism is characterized by a zeal for the primacy of life, since Hasidism is all about loving openness to reality, there are many anecdotes that concern suffering, ageing, and dying.
This is partly explained by Buber’s mention, also in his Introduction, that “Rabbi Shelomo as none other accepted as his own the Baal Shem’s doctrine that before praying man should prepare to die, because the intention of prayer demands the staking of his entire self.”
Here are a few examples of the kinds of anecdotes and aphoristic stories found in The Hasidic Tales:
“A man who was afflicted with a terrible disease complained to Rabbi Israel that his suffering interfered with his learning and praying. The rabbi put his hand on his shoulder and said, ‘How do you know, friend, what is more pleasing to God, your studying or your suffering?”
Soon after the death of Rabbi Moshe, Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk asked one of his disciples:
“What was most important to your teacher?”
The disciple thought and then replied:
“Whatever he happened to be doing at the moment.”
In his old age, Rabbi Israel said: “There are those zaddikim [the righteous; those who stood the test; those who have been proven] who–as soon as they have accomplished the task appointed to them for their life on earth–are called to depart. And there are those zaddikim who–the moment they have accomplished the task appointed to them for their life on earth–are given another task, and they live until that too is accomplished. That is the way it was with me.”
Over the next year, I look forward to exploring these themes in much more depth.