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Saturday, 20 May 2017

126) LETTERS FROM THE CHERSON GENIZA - TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH. PART 3:

INTRODUCTION:

1771 letter signed by R. Leib Saras as found in the Cherson Geniza.


For an analysis of the fascinating history and controversy surrounding the letters of the Cherson Geniza, see KOTZK BLOG 123.

The translations which follow are my own. I am not aware of any other translations of these letters and I take full responsibility for any inaccuracies.

In Part 3, the letters cover the period 5528 (1768), which was eight years after the passing of the Baal Shem Tov, to 5530 (1770). This was the period when the Maggid of Mezeritch was well established as the successor of the Besht, and as evident from his letters, he ran the Chassidic movement efficiently like a tight ship.

One also notices that, unlike the previous period, the obsession to ‘hide the teachings’ and the veiled references to unnamed individuals, is no longer an issue.

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DOCUMENT 198:
Letter from R. Yisrael of Polotzk to R. Menachem Mendel ben Moshe[1] (of Vitebsk) informing him that he accepts his endorsement of the Maggid of Mezeritch and is prepared to meet him:



B”H
Erev Rosh haShana 5527 (1767) Polotzk.

To the holy and honourable rabbi, my friend, a man of G-d, very awesome, expert at everything in both revealed and hidden (Torah), our teacher the rabbi, Menachem Mendel, son of the brilliant teacher and rabbi Moshe, may he live forever:

I have received the pure (writings) of your hand.

And I am (just now) ready and prepared to approach the holy of holies for the forthcoming festival of Sukkot - may it descend upon us for good - to (meet) the honourable and holy rabbi the Maggid (of Mezeritch) our master the teacher and rabbi, the holy one, may he live.[2]

For I trust you implicitly regarding the matter, as you have stayed in his presence and have only reported good of him.

From your friend who seeks your welfare and blesses you.....(words missing)
Yisrael of Polotzk.


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DOCUMENT 199:
Letter from the Maggid of Mezeritch to his son, R. Avraham, who is not well:



B”H
Sunday (Parshat) Chukat 5528 (1768) Medzebuzh:

To my honourable beloved son, holy and pure, R. Avrahamene[3], may you live.

See to it that you listen to the advice of the doctors, for G-d’s sake.

Only study the lessons up to midday, and under no circumstances may you study at night.

May G-d send you a complete recovery from heaven, among the rest of the sick of Israel, Amen.
(From) your father who loves you with a love that knows no end,

Dovber, son of our teacher the rabbi, R. Avraham.


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DOCUMENT 200:
Letter from the Maggid of Mezeritch to R. Zusha of Anipoli informing him he has been chosen in a lottery to carry out a mission:



B”H
Sunday (Parshat) Lech (Lecha) 5529 (1769).

A long and peaceful life.

To the honourable and holy, my esteemed student, a holy, wholesome and righteous man, k sh’m[4] Meshulam Zusha, may you live, of Anipoli:

Know, honourable and holy (student) that you have been chosen by a lottery (draw) to act as a messenger for a righteous act.

Therefore come (journey) to me immediately and I shall send you, if it is G-d’s will, at a good and appropriate time. Amen, netzach selah.

From your rabbi, who always seeks your welfare and who blesses you,

Dovber, son of our teacher the rabbi, R. Avraham.


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DOCUMENT 201:
Letter from the Maggid of Mezeritch to his student R. Zusia of Anipoli, telling him not to interfere with his vision for the future:



B”H
Thursday (Parshat) Vayigash 5529 (1769) Rovno.[5]

To my diligent Torah student, holy and pure etc. Mr. Meshulam Zusia[6] y’n:

I have told you not once and not twice, that you must desist from delving into (interfering with) my work.[7]

My heart trusts in the kindness of G-d that we (Chassidim) will never be destroyed.

Furthermore, that this man[8] who speaks angrily against me and against our master, teacher and rabbi whose soul is now in the highest realms, the holy one the Baal Shem Tov, may his merit protect us – will never return (to the path of truth) and will remain pushed aside (from holiness).

The only way (he can ever return to holiness) is if he repents[9]. (Only) then will he be healed[10]. Vd’l.

From your rabbi and teacher who loves you,

Dovber, son of our teacher the rabbi, R. Avraham.


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DOCUMENT 202:
Letter from R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi to his wife and parents-in-law informing them that he cannot return home for Shavuot:




B”H
Wednesday (Parshat) Bamidbar 5529 (1769).

To the honourable gentleman, my Torah (observing) father-in-law, the G-d fearing[11] philanthropist, exceptional at Torah and fear (of heaven), who pursues charity sht’v[12], our teacher the rabbi Yehudah Leib Segal, n’y.

Also, to my modest mother-in-law, a woman of valour, vllvv’g[13] (and to my wife), together with all the members of the household[14].

All of you stand (ready for the) blessing of abundant life, peace and all good. Sela:

Thank G-d for the creation.

May G-d allow us to spread and to facilitate good tidings for all the house of Israel. Amen, netzach, sela.

Know, that I am unable to fulfil your request, under any circumstances in the world, for (in a contest between listening to a teacher or a student) which words to we listen to?[15]

For my honourable and holy master, teacher and rabbi, the Maggid (of Mezeritch) y’n, will not allow me to travel (return) to my home. He has instructed me to celebrate the holy festival of Shavuot - may it descend upon us for good – with him, at his holy court.

May G-d permit us to receive the Torah[16] with trembling and joy. Amen and amen.

From your son-in law and husband who blesses you with all good. Sela.

Shneur Zalman, son of the rabbi, Baruch.


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DOCUMENT 203:
 Letter from R. Pinchas of Koretz his teacher the Maggid of Mezeritch asking him to appoint a more erudite rabbi to debate with the Mitnagdim:






B”H
5529 (1769) Koretz.

(Wishing you a) long life, a life of peace, a life of blessing.

To my honourable beloved (teacher), beloved of G-d, and beloved of all the souls of Israel. The brilliant rabbi, leader of all the children of the exile, before whom all praise is silent[17], Our master and rabbi, the rabbi R. Dovber, may he live, the great speaker of truth from all the children of the exile:

I obeyed your instruction.

But I did not succeed.

For their (the opponents of the Chassidim) hearts are like stone, and their ears are deaf to hearing the word of G-d.

In my opinion, it would be better for you (rather) to send someone more worthy than myself to accomplish your mission (of spreading Chassidism to the opponents) - who’s mouth will be more erudite (and be accurate) according to the law – for these are the Mitnagdim[18] (opponents, that we are dealing with) - they are famous (scholarly) intellectuals.

Therefore, rather send someone more exulted (other than myself) to deliberate with them. Vd’l.

I (additionally) want to inform you, holy and honourable one, that my health is not perfect.

Please (therefore), remember our love (friendship) and pray on my behalf for a complete recovery.

It has been nine years since the passing of the great master and teacher zt’l, may his merit protect us and (all) Israel, but I have not once merited to see him in my dreams until last night when I saw him twice.

And it was not (even) in (the form of) a dream (because) I spoke to him face to face (in reality).

And from his words (I realised) that many tribulations are yet to come, before the great and holy name will be (revealed) in the world[19], and G-d will atone (for the opponents).

From your beloved friend and companion, who blesses you with all good, and who is (eagerly) waiting to see you with great joy.

May all who oppose you fall like straw before the wind. May truth sprout out from the ground.

The insignificant Pinchas Shapira of Koretz.

(P.s.) send regards to our group, my brothers and faithful friends...(words missing) the righteous and holy brilliant rabbis... may they also pray on my behalf...for a complete recovery amid all....(words missing).

The abovementioned Pinchas.


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DOCUMENT 204:

Letter from the Maggid of Mezeritch to Avraham ben Sarah demanding acknowledgement of receipt of charity money:





B”H
Thursday (Parshat) Vayeshev 5530 (1770) Rovna[20].

To the beloved of G-d and beloved of my soul, the Torah observant, our teacher the rabbi Avraham ben Sarah, may you live.

I am most surprised at yourself, honourable and holy one, may you live – because I sent through my beloved son Avrahmenye[21], may he live, the amount of 5 Adumim for the sustenance of captives -  and I further sent you another 10 Adumim – and I have not yet (received) your acknowledgement of receipt.

I await receipt of a letter from you, honourable and holy one, through the bearer of this letter[22].

From your friend who seeks your welfare and wishes you an abundance of good,

Dovber, son of our teacher the rabbi, R. Avraham.


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DOCUMENT 205:
Letter from R. Zusa[23] of Anipoli to his brother R. Elimelech inviting him to join him at the Maggid for his (R. Zusa’s) son’s bar mitzvah:




B”H
Erev Shabbat Kodesh (Parshat) Vayeshev 5530 (1770) Anipoli.

To my dear and righteous brother, the chassid and awesome holy one, Mr. Elimelech, may you live:

Thank G-d, life and peace[24] is with me[25].

G-d willing, after Shabbat, I am preparing to go to our holy place, to (visit) the honourable and holy teacher and rabbi, the rabbi and Maggid (of Mezeritch), y’n, in Rovno[26].

Therefore I advise (urge) you to also join with me, to bask in the splendour of the shine of the honourable holy one (the Maggid), y’n.

And how good and how pleasant is it when brothers stay together.

(Please, if you do come) bring with you the teffilin for my beloved son, may he live, because I am wanting (planning) to have his Bar Mitzvah there.

From your brother, waiting for the speedily delivery of all Israel,

The insignificant Meshulam Zusa, son of our teacher and rabbi, Avraham of Anipoli.

(P.s.) All the members of my family, may they live, send regards.


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DOCUMENT 206:
Letter from the Maggid of Mezeritch to his student R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, outlining a schedule of learning and general conduct:




B”H
Monday (Parshat) Vayigash 5530 (1770).

To my honourable and holy student, the crown of my head, the erudite and chassid etc. etc. our teacher and rabbi Zalmina[27], may you live.

Even though it is not my usual way, I have given in to your request, and am writing a schedule for you to confidently follow in the path of holiness, if you so desire.

Namely,

1) Your main study of kabbalah should specifically be at night, up to an hour after midnight.

If you do not understand something, do not spend too much time contemplating it. Instead, write it down and ask me (later) or (ask) your colleague, my holy son Avrahemene, may he live. This way you will understand. Vd’l.

2) The amount of time you (spend) sleeping should never be less than (a period of) six hours.

3) You should eat once in the morning and once at night for G-d’s sake.

4) For G-d’s sake do not afflict yourself (by making life uncomfortable for yourself).

5) Study every day from the book (entitled) Chessed LeAvraham by the holy R. Azulai[28], zal. This way you will enlighten your eyes, and we will always have peace, and we will merit to study and teach for G-d’s name (sake)....(words missing).

From your teacher,

Dovber, son of our teacher the rabbi, R. Avraham.


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DOCUMENT 207:
Letter from the Maggid of Mezeritch to his son, requesting him to return home because he is missing him.



B”H
Monday (Parshat) Veyechi 5530 (1770) Rovno.

To my honourable dear and pure son, who brings happiness to all, Mr. Avrahemene, may you live.

While it is true that I gave my blessing for you to travel, however, I only (intended) my blessing to extend to one Shabbat (and not longer).

Therefore I request of you, immediately upon receipt of this letter, to come (back home) for, G-d knows that my soul is bound up with yours.

From your father and teacher who seeks your welfare with an abundance of love, always,

Dovber, son of our teacher the rabbi, R. Avraham.


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DOCUMENT 208:
Letter from R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi to R. Shmelke Horowitz informing him that he has begun work on compiling the new Shulchan Aruch[29]:



B”H
Thursday (Parshat) Shemot 5530 (1770).

To the honourable holy of holies, the brilliant rabbi, a man of G-d, an expert at all (types of study) etc. etc. etc. holy is his name, our teacher the rabbi Shmelke Horowitz, y’n.

After inquiring after your welfare, I am certain you are aware of that which the honourable and holy master, teacher and rabbi, the holy Maggid (of Mezeritch) suggested, y’n, that we should involve ourselves in the compilation of a new Shulchan Aruch.

I am able to inform you that, thank G-d, I am (presently) involved in (this project).

May G-d help me be successful at determining the truth (and the accuracy of the text) and may G-d help me complete (the project) for good, that I should complete it and implant the love and fear of G-d in the hearts of All of Israel. Amen, netzach, sela.

Enclosed is a pamphlet to serve as a sample (of the new Shulchan Aruch).

From the one who loves you with a full heart,

Shneur Zalman, son of my master my father, my teacher and rabbi Mr. Baruch zlhh’h[30].


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[1] My assumption is that this is a reference to R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk (known in Chabad circles as R. M.M. of Horodok) (1730-1788). He was a primary disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch. In 1777, R. M.M. of Vitebsk, together with R. Avraham of Kalisk and R. Yisrael of Polozk led the first Chassidic aliyah to the Holy Land. All in all about three hundred souls settled in Safed - and were later forced to move to Tiberius. The synagogue they build there in 1786, still stands to this day.
Actually there was a fourth rabbi who also started out on the aliyah - R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi - but under pressure from the Vitebsker (whom he regarded as his teacher after the passing of the Maggid some five years previously) remained behind to serve as the leader of the Chassidic movement in White Russia and Lithuania. Parts of the Tanya are attributed to the teachings of the Vitebsker).
Previously, in 1772, the Vitebsker, accompanied by R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi journeyed to Vilna to try to meet with the Vilna Gaon and convince him to rescind his ban against the Chassidim, but the meeting did not take place.
[2] Obviously there was some hesitation on the part of R. Yisrael of Polotzk to meet the Maggid.  This was soon put aside by his friend R. M.M. of Vitebsk who assured him of the Maggid’s good credentials.
[3] A term of endearment for Avraham.
[4][4] K sh’m may mean kevodo shel melech (one who has the honour of a king), or kadosh shemo (one with a holy name).
[5] Rovno or Rivne is a city in western Ukraine, in the historical region of Volhynia.
[6] Note the spelling of the name Zusia in this document is different from the spelling Zusha in the previous document.
[7] The original letter uses the words ‘do not seek after my work’, which the paraphrase in Hatamim interprets as ‘do not seek after the future’.  This could either mean that the Maggid is cautioning his student not to second guess (or try to pre-empt) his teacher - or not to worry about what is going to happen (to the newly formed Chassidic movement) in the future.
[8] This is obviously a not so veiled reference to the Vilna Gaon (1729-1797) the great opponent to the new Chassidic movement and who placed them under a ban.

To illustrate the connection between R. Zusha and the Vilna Gaon: There is a story about a Jew who came to R. Zusha complaining that his recently buried father came to him in a dream and told him to undergo baptism. The second time the father insisted even more intensely, and the third time he ‘threatened’ his son. R. Zusha told him to dig up the grave. He listened - and some coins, with non-Jewish symbols, were soon found in the sand. The bad dreams occurred no more. The Vilna Gaon heard about this story and expressed his amazement that a Chassidic master would have known to look for the symbols, because there happens to be an obscure Talmud Yerushalmi that speaks about a similar idea – and how could an ‘unlearned’ chassid have been privy to that. When R. Zusha heard the Vilna Gaon’s response, he remarked that indeed he did not see that particular Yerushalmi, but instead knew it instinctively as he saw in the same spiritual source as the Yerushalmi originally saw it.

[9] Or perhaps rescinds (his ban).
[10] Or restored.
[11] Mv’sh could mean muflag veshalom (exceptional and peaceful) or more likely morah shamayim (G-d fearing).
[12]I do not know what this abbreviation stands for.
[13]I do not know what this abbreviation stands for, unless it is printing error and the second vav is meant to be a zayin, which would read ‘ulezugati’ (and to my wife).
[14] M’b is an abbreviation for moledet bayit (members of the household).
[15] I. e. R. Shneur Zalman has to obey his teacher, the Maggid,  over the request from his esteemed family - and therefore must remain with his teacher for the festival of Shavuot and will not be returning home.
[16] This is a reference to Shavuot, the festival G-d giving (and Bnei Yisrael receiving) the Torah.
[17] I.e. no praise will be worthy enough.
[18] The actual term in the letter is Menagdim (opponents).
[19] I.e. before the teaching of Chassidut spread throughout the world.
[20] Note the difference in spelling between Rovno in this document (with a bet) as compared to the spelling in document 201 (with a vav). Both documents were from the Maggid.
[21] A term of endearment for Avraham.
[22] Hmvk’z is an abbreviation for hamuchzak ketav zeh (the one who bears this letter).
[23] Cf. three variant spellings of this name: here, in document 201 and in document 200. Namely Zusa, Zusia and Zusha.
[24] Hchvh’s is an abbreviation for hachaim vehashalom (life and peace).
[25] I.e. I am well.
[26] C.f. three variant spellings of the city’s name,  Rovno: - here (with two vavs), in document 204 (with a bet), and in document 201 (with one vav).
[27] A term of endearment for Zalman (R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi).
[28]R. Avraham Azulai (1570-1634) was a kabbalist, specialising in the kabbalah of the Ari Zal and R. Cordovero. He put into writing some topics that were never before transmitted in writing, and which were only passed down orally from generation to generation. Once, on his way from Morocco to Israel, his ship sunk while being anchored in Greece. He was not on the boat at the time but many of his writings were lost. Thereafter his signature resembles the shape of a boat as a sign of gratitude for his life being spared. He was also known for excavating some of R. Chaim Vital’s manuscripts from his tomb in Damascus. These writings later became known as the famous Eitz Chaim. His great-grandson became known as the Chidah.
[29] This was later to become known as the Shulchan Aruch haRav, or the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch.
[30] Zlhh’h may be a printing mistake for zichrono livracha lechaye haolam habah (may his memory be for a blessing in the life of the world to come).