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Sunday, 7 May 2017

124) LETTERS FROM THE CHERSON GENIZA - TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH. Part 1.

PART 1

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



INTRODUCTION:

What follows is an English translation of some of the letters which were found in the Cherson Geniza in southern Ukraine around 1917. They are alleged to be copies of letters written by the Baal Shem Tov and his students dating back to the mid-1700’s.

Through this collection of what may be called the ‘Cairo Geniza’ of Chassidism, we are afforded an unprecedented window into the early Chassidic movement - its characters, its hopes, fears and aspirations. We see a very human component to what is usually characterised purely as an other-worldly and mystical society.

I am not aware of any other translations of these letters, and my intention here is solely to present their content in English, for those who are interested in a behind the scenes look at early Chasidism.

I have tried to present each of the individual translations of the documents as accurately as I can - but the footnotes are my personal interpretation (and sometimes speculation) of the events, based on research into the personalities and history of that time.

Many, outside of Chabad and Rudzhin believe these letters to be forgeries. They may be. But I have found them to be so incredibly intriguing that I hope they are not.

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

The translations which follow are my own and I take full responsibility for any inaccuracies.


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THE CHERSON LETTERS:

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DOCUMENT  168:
Document explaining the history of the fourteen coins:





EREV PESACH 5519 (1759)

These fourteen coins are mine through an inheritance from my honourable father. (They are from) the Holy Ari Zal[1] and were handed down to us, for the holy Shekel(s) belonged to our teacher Meor haGolah[2] (and) Rashi Zal.

Yisrael son of our teacher R. Eliezer Baal Shem from Mezeritch.


[The Hatamim paraphrase reads:

Written and signed by our teacher the Baal Shem Tov.]

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DOCUMENT 169:
Document specifying Besht’s expenditure:


  
B”H
ACCOUNT OF EXPENDITURE:

To the rabbi R. Nachman[3] n’y[4]                        2 Adumim[5]
To the rabbi R. Dov[6] n’y                                    4 Adumim
To my wife[7] tc’y[8]                                                9 Adumim
To the warden of charity                              26[9] Adumim
To the scribe R”Z[10]                                             3 Adumim
Miscellaneous charity                                     10 Adumim
To the holy mystic rabbi R. Mordecai[11]       26 Adumim
For visiting the sick                                         10 Adumim
To my son...Zvi n’y                                               1  Adum
To my daughter m(arat)[12] Adele tc’y             2 Adumim
To the sexton of the synagogue                     3 Adumim

Total                                                                   96 Adumim

In my pocket I had 100 Adumim (there now) remains 4 Adumim.

This account is from the eve of Shavuot 5519 (1759).


I received this holy account from the Rabbanit m(arat) Adele tc’y  - daughter of our holy master the Besht Zal.

I am:

Yisrael from Ruzhin.


[The Hatamim paraphrase reads:

Written by the hand of our master the Besht (recording) how much he gave to each of them...]

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DOCUMENT 170:
From Besht to his wife requesting her to hide the teachings:



B”H

Monday (Parshat) Korach 5519 (1759) Medzibuzh:

To my wife m(arat) Leah Rachel[13] tc’y

 I request that you hide all that I had given over to you before (I left on) the journey.

And even hide (the writings received) from the well known rabbi[14] – (this is important and) it all depends on you.

By this I remain most appreciative.

Your husband,

Yisrael son of our teacher R. Eliezer Baal Shem. Medzebuzh.

The children are, thank G-d, alive (well) and peaceful – and they wish you well.

 ..................................................................................................................................................................


DOCUMENT 172:
From Besht to R. Yaakov Yosef of Polnoa asking him to return the writings of R. Adam Baal Shem Tov, and informing him who that the Maggid of Mezeritch will assume the role of leadership instead of him:


  
B”H
Wednesday (Parshat) Balak 5519 (1759) Medzibuzh:

To my student, the rabbi and holy genius, exceptional in this generation, beloved to me like the apple of my eye etc., our teacher Rabbi Yaakov Yosef haCohen[15], n’y:

I inform you in the utmost secrecy that my (late) teacher n’e[16], appeared to me – alive and not in a dream, and not in perception, but really in a visual one on one (meeting). He revealed to me many issues concerning the wonders of the world and the pre-messianic age.

He also informed me that my successor will (not be you, but rather will) be my (other)holy student, the prince of Torah, Ber[17] n’y.

Therefore know, my student, what is before you, and return to me the writings of R. Adam Baal Shem Tov[18] z’l[19]  so that I can hand them over to him ve d’l[20].

And the matter is concealed and closed.

Your teacher and rabbi,

Yisrael son of our master Rabbi Eliezer Baal Shem of Medzibuzh.

5519 (1759) Erev Shabbat Kodesh Balak, Medzibuzh.


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DOCUMENT 173:
From Besht to R. Moshe of Dalin concerning a renegade shochet and kashrut inspector:

                                                                                                                 



B”H Erev Shabbat (Parshat) Balak 5519 (1759) Medzebuzh:

May only goodness and kindness pursue the honourable and holy one, beloved of G-d and beloved soul, the brilliant rabbi, the holy one, the great tree, our teacher and Rabbi Moshe n’y Head of the (Rabbinic) Court of Dalin.

I received the letter from your pure hand, and I was overcome with trembling when I read the words which the slaughterer and inspector[21] spoke against G-d and against his messiah[22] – Heaven forefend to repeat (those words).

I therefore advise you, my beloved and beloved of G-d, not to dismiss him completely (from his job). Just suspend him for six months and after that, we will see (decide) and know (how to proceed).

But I am convinced, that with G-d’s kindness – because nothing is ever lost, G-d forbid, and the Blessed One wants His people to return (and he will certainly mend his ways).

Promise me that you will carry out my request in this matter.

Respond soonest,

(These are the words of) one who loves you with heart and soul who seeks your welfare always,

Yisrael son of our teacher R. Eliezer Baal Shem. Medzebuzh.


[The Hatamim paraphrase reads:

(Letter from) our teacher the Baal Shem Tov to R Moshe of Dalin - concerning a Slaughterer and inspector. (R. Moshe of Dalin) had to be cautioned about the dismissal procedure.

5519 (1759) 26 Tammuz[23], Lvov]

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DOCUMENT 174:
Letter declaring a holiday on 26 Tammuz in commemoration of the victory against the Frankists[24]:


B”H
Levov 26 Tamuz 5519 (1759) LePeret katan[25]

Since today is a day of good tidings for us, who have signed below, and also for all the house of Israel – For through the efforts of the Bishop of Levov, Master Sololski, may he live, we the undersigned, have defeated the evil community, the sect of the bitter and evil, may his name be wiped out, Jacob Frank and his wicked community, may the names of the wicked rot.

For G-d rose to defend us, and therefore we have taken upon ourselves and our descendants, and upon all who are associated with us, from now and forever – to make this day a holiday for drinking and joy in every place. (This is) in the merit of G-d not allowing our feet to stumble (in defeat) and allowing (leading) us to tread on the altars of our enemies, and elevating (restoring) our crown (light) back to our head.

We are the undersigned, on the abovementioned day and in the abovementioned year in the holy community of Levov:

From the holy Chaim haCohen Rappaport, son of brilliant and holy, our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Simcha zt’l
Head of the Court of the holy community of Levov

Yisrael son of our teacher R. Eliezer Baal Shem. Medzebuzh.

Yitzchak Dovber Margaliot of Azlowitch

By order of our rabbi the light of the exile y’ n, we have come to sign on Thursday (Parshat) Vaetchanan 5519 (1759) at the holy city of Medzebuzh:

Dovber son of our teacher and rabbi Avraham of Mezeritch

Yaakov Yosef haCohen of Polnoa

From, Zev Woolf Kitzes.

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DOCUMENT 176:
From R. Avraham Abba Shapira to his son R. Pinchas of Koretz:






B”H
Wednesday (Parshat) Ekev 5519 (1759) Koritz:

To my son, the holy rabbi, the adorning crown of my head, a man of wonders, Mr Pinchas[26] n’y:

When you find yourself in the shade (or presence) of the faithful[27] and holy rabbi (i.e. the Baal Shem Tov) sy’n[28], see to it that, for G-d’s sake, you mention me to him – for my soul pains (yearns) after him.

I had a dream that it was Lag BaOmer and I was sitting at a gathering, together with my awesome teacher and rabbi, the Baal Shem Tov sy’n, when suddenly his holy face lit up and said the following words;

“My dear Avremelleh (Avraham); I see that this will be the last Lag BaOmer that you will spend with me in this world, because they are (going to be) calling me away [end of holy quote].“

Now, don’t you (under any circumstances) reveal this dream to him (the Besht). Just tell (ask) him to rectify[29] the dream by saying with his holy mouth ‘I have seen a good dream’, vd’l.

I bind you (my son) by an oath not to reveal this to anyone.

From your father,

Eagerly waiting to receive a positive response,

Avraham Abba Shapira, son of Tzipora.

Give a ‘pan’[30] of eighteen Polish coins.

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DOCUMENT 177:
From Besht requesting for one of his descendants to settle in Tulchin:


 B"H Erev Shabbat, Tulchin, 5519 (1759):

To all my students and brotherhood of rabbis, the righteous, the brilliant, the holy and the pure – the heavenly people, may G-d be with you, and you should live:

B”H
Erev Shabbat Kodesh, Tulchin 5579 (1759):

Last night I arrived here (in Tulchin) and saw a huge kitrog (spiritual accusation), G-d forbid. However; ‘when G-d is pleased with the ways of a man – even his enemies make peace with him.’[31] But as much as I tried I did not have the ability to sweeten (the harsh decree).

It was only after I agreed that one of my descendants would establish his domicile here (in Tulchin), that the harsh decree was sweetened at it's source. This is because the habitation of a righteous person has an effect (on a location) and becomes its splendour, vd’l.


From your rabbi and teacher,

Yisrael son of our teacher R. Eliezer Baal Shem. Medzebuzh.

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DOCUMENT 178:
Letter from Besht to R. Yaakov Yosef of Polnoa encouraging him not to follow the majority:


B”H
Tuesday (Parshat) Vayechi 5520 (1760) Medzebuzh:

To my student the righteous, exalted, brilliant etc. and holy rabbi, our teacher and rabbi Yaakov Yosef haCohen n’y:

I received the letter from your pure hand[32] and my response is:

Although it is a clear Torah principle that one must always follows the majority (opinion) – that only applies when both parties ascribe to the holy Torah. But when one side ascribes to the opposite (side), G-d forbid, even though that side might be a majority (view, then we would not be obliged to follow it), vd’l.


And I see explicitly, and it was revealed to me from heaven, that (with regard to the matter about which you enquired) the minority ascribe to the ways of our holy Torah (therefore you should follow the minority view in this instance).

May there be peace now.

From your teacher, who seeks your welfare with love,

Yisrael son of our teacher R. Eliezer Baal Shem. Medzebuzh.


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DOCUMENT 179:
Letter from the Maggid of Merzeritch to the Besht, concerning R Kehot of Verish:




B”H
Sunday (Parshat) Mishpatim 5520 (1760) Medzebuzh:

To the honourable and holy master, teacher and rabbi, the holy and awesome, to whom we are silent in praise, our rabbi The Baal Shem Tov, may he live until the coming of Yinon[33]. Amen, netzach, selah vaed:

After enquiring about your wellbeing, I put out my hand before your holy foot stool to entreat you, my teacher and rabbi (to respond to me concerning) two issues:

Either place the load (of leadership succession) upon another of your holy students, may they live; Or return home from your journey, to your holy house, because I am weak and ‘all the people are waiting for me from morning to evening’[34], may they live.

It is extremely difficult for me, all by myself, to overcome my weak mind and advise (the people).

I received a letter from, beloved of G-d and beloved of us, the brilliant rabbi, our teacher the Rabbi Kehat of Verish n’y. He wrote at length but I will summarise:

For the past ten days the fountains of wisdom have been closed to him, G-d forbid. He couldn’t even understand a verse of Chumash with Rashi. Even the three (daily) prayers he couldn’t understand. Especially at night.

And every night a maggid (angelic being) would (try to) teach him while he was asleep, until he awoke.

(R. Kehot) sent a pan[35], asking and requesting advice from the honourable and holy one, our master teacher and rabbi, n’y (i.e. the Baal Shem Tov).

(Since you were not here) I sent him one of your girdles (or ‘gartels’, belts, for him to use) as protection from time to time.

(Nevertheless) it is urgent that we deal with this (issue) and not ignore it.
So either respond to me, my master, teacher and rabbi, immediately so I can know what to do – bless me, my holy and honourable master, teacher and rabbi, may you live, that whatever I do will be (appropriately) good.

I have (already) performed a Pidyon (redemption).

I am trusting that - with my holy master, teacher and rabbi’s kindness, may you live - you will speedily respond to me on all the matters of this letter.

At your pleasant and holy home, thank G-d, all are alive (well) and tranquil.

Eagerly awaiting your n’y return,

From your student who bows down from afar opposite your holy presence, and stands ready to welcome you back in life and peace:

Dovber son of our teacher the rabbi R. Avraham.

(P.s.) I have fulfilled your instruction, my teacher and rabbi, to sign my name at the conclusion of a letter, with my father’s name specifically.[36]

From the aforementioned.

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DOCUMENT 180:
The Pidyon Nefesh for R. Kehot of Verish:
(Relating to previous document.)

  
B”H  Verish:

Kehot son of Sheindel – for a complete recovery. His intellectual faculties have been suddenly taken away from him, G-d forbid, as explained at length in the (abovementioned) letter.

Pan of eighteen gold coins.


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DOCUMENT 181:
Letter from Besht to R. Menachem Mendel of Premislan suggesting he makes peace with R Yaakov Yosef of Polnoa:




B”H
Wednesday (Parshat) Tisa 5520 (1760) Medzebuz:

To the honourable and beloved to my soul, the holy and pure rabbi, from whom no secrets are withheld etc. Menachem Mendel n’y from the holy community of Premislan:

Know, honourable and holy one (i.e. R. M.M. of Premislan), that he (R.Y.Y. of Polnoa) has been eligible[37] to be among the invited guests (to participate) around the table for the forthcoming holy festival of Passover.[38]

Therefore be forewarned, and know, honourable and holy one, that the (other) holy rabbi (R. Y.Y. of Polnoa) is also dear to me. (Be forewarned that) Mr.Yaakov Yosef haCohen (of Polnoa) is also invited.

Since I know that between the two of you there are matters of the heart (dispute), I therefore pre-empt and write that before you travel to me – you send him (R. Y.Y. of Polnoa) a letter requesting that he forgive you. And you too, the holy and honourable one, n ‘y, should forgive him.

I will also write a letter to him, y’ n, the honourable and holy (R. Y.Y. of Polnoa), vd ‘l (requesting he do the same to you).

Then the two of you will be equal for good, and in the merit of the peace, it will be good for us.

And (have a) kosher and happy festival, materially and spiritually.

And may G-d guard us against even a small amount of chametz (leaven).

From your teacher and rabbi who loves you and seeks your good with a whole heart:

Yisrael son of our teacher R. Eliezer Baal Shem. Medzebuzh.


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[1] The Kabbalist known as the Ari Zal - Rabbi Yitzchak Luria 1534-1572.
[2] Rabbenu Gershom (960-1040). One of his students, R. Yaakov ben Yakar, was the teacher of Rashi (1040-1105). Thus these coins go back to the time of the period of the Gaonim.
[3] This may be a reference to R. Nachman of Horodenka (d. 1764) a close student of the Baal Shem Tov, who passed away in Tiberius.  His son (R. Simcha) married the granddaughter of the Baal Shem Tov (Feiga, daughter of Adel) and his grandson was R. Nachman of Breslov.
[4] N’y is an abbreviation for nishmo yair, which literally means may his soul shine or may he live long.
[5] A monetary currency.
[6] This may be a reference to R. Dov Ber of Mezeritch, also known as the Magid of Mezeritch (1704-1772), who succeeded the Baal Shem Tov as leader of the Chassidic movement.
[7] Literally: ‘the anchor of my home’.
[8] Tc’y is an abbreviation for tichyi, which means may she live long.
[9] I assume this number is the correct reading of the original.
[10] This may be a reference to R. Zvi Hirsch, who worked as the Baal Shem Tov’s scribe. He is also known as R. Zvi Sofer. He wrote two Sifrei Torah for the Baal Shem Tov (and third one which he didn’t manage to complete before he passed away). Apparently the incomplete Torah is currently in the possession of the Vizhnitzer Rebbe, and it is said that the Baal Shem Tov wrote the last verse himself.  I believe this incomplete Torah is taken out on Kol Nidrei night and on Simchat Torah in Vizhnitz, although it is obviously not read from as it is incomplete.
[11] This may be a reference to R. Mordechai of Zaslov (the ne’eman or faithful?) who was a ‘hidden Tzadik’ and a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. After the Baal Shem Tov ‘revealed himself’, R. Mordechai decided to also begin to interact with the world. He asked his teacher what he should do to earn a living. He was told to become a cantor. When he responded that he couldn’t sing, the Baal Shem promised to ‘bind him to the world of song’. This way R. Mordechai became a charismatic singer without the trappings of arrogance and pretentiousness.
See here for one of his compositions.
[12] Mrs.
[13] There are different accounts of the Baal Shem Tov’s marriages.  He may have first married Chanah, daughter of R. Efraim of Kitov. (Some say this was a second marriage as his first wife died soon after they were married.)  Others say he married Leah Rachel, daughter of Efraim of Kitov around 1720.
[14] It would be fascinating to know just which rabbi is referenced here, and why his name is not put into writing. My speculation is that it may be a reference to Sefer haTzoref or some other similar writing. See KOTZK BLOG 117.
[15] This is a reference to R. Yaakov Yosef of Polnoa, one of the Baal Shem Tov’s first and most dedicated students. He is the author of the first Chassidic book ever published, the Toledot Yaakov Yosef, printed in 1780. This manuscript, even eight years before it was printed, sparked conflict between the Chassidim and Mitnagdim, and may have been responsible for the Chassidim being placed under ban. The manuscript was then burned by the Mitnagdim in Brody in 1781.  Later the Tzav'at haRivash was also burned in Vilna in 1794. These works were burned, not so much because of their technical content, but because they criticised the culture and milieu of some of the scholars of the day.  According to Toledot Yaakov Yosef,  a certain Mitnagdic scribe has deviously changed some of his language so as to intentionally create hostilities. There appears to have been a rather dynamic relationship between R. Yaakov Yosef and the Maggid of Mezeritch. The Maggid encouraged the notion of the tzadik staying in one place, and the students travelling to him – whereas R. Yaakov Yosef had only a small and select group of followers and was not looking for recruits.
[16] N’e is an abbreviation for nishmato eden, which means may his soul be in (the Garden of) Eden.
[17] R. Dov Ber or Maggid of Mezeritch.
[18] This is a reference to Adam Baal Shem Tov who was the kabbalistic teacher of R. Yisrael Baal Shem Tov.
[19] Z’l or Zal is an abbreviation for zichrono livracha, which means may his memory be for a blessing.
[20] Ve d’l is an abbreviation for ve dai lemaivin, which means enough for the wise or enough said.
[21] Sh u”v is an abbreviation for Shochet u vodek.
[22] Or:  anointed one.
[23] See KOTZK BLOG 123 for significance of this date. Also note that the paraphrase mentions Lvov, while the actual letter states Medzebuzh.
[24] Jacob Frank was a self-proclaimed and false messiah. See KOTZK BLOG 117. and KOTZK BLOG 123.

[25] A calendar designation.
[26] This is a letter from R. Avraham Abba Shapira to his son R. Pinchas of Koretz (1728-1790). R. Avraham Abba started out a staunch Lithuanian opponent to Chassidut until he was forced to move, because of a blood libel, to Mirpol where he met with the Besht. His son, R. Pinchas also became an important disciple of the Besht (who said of him; ‘a soul like R. Pinchas only comes to this world every five hundred years.’)
[27] Tzeilah demheinuta is a term the Zohar uses to describe the sukkah as a place of faithful shade.
[28] Sy’n is an abbreviation for either sheyair nero (may his light shine) of sheyichye netzach (may he live forever).
[29] There is a formula to annul a bad dream.
[30] Redemption money.
[31] Mishle 16:7.
[32] Gi”h is an abbreviation for gellilat yadecha  hatehorah, which means writings from your pure hand.
[33] Yinon is one of the names of the messiah.
[34] Cf. Exodus 18:14
[35] Pan is an abbreviation for Pidyon Nefesh, which means redemption money or letter.
[36] Usually when writing to a rebbe one would sign with one’s mothers name.
[37] Lit: his portion has fallen pleasantly.
[38] There was obviously friction between both R. M.M. of Premislan and R.Y.Y. of Polnoa. The two were going to be present together at the Pesach table together with the Baal Shem Tov. To avoid an unpleasant confrontation, the Besht was trying, in this letter, to get both parties to reach an amicable agreement and to cease hostilities.

1 comment:

  1. Shabtai Zvi has left off. To see a reference to the messiah- a complaint laid by the Gra -may in some small way confirm the concerns that he had. Perhaps Chasidism owes more to the GRA than it is prepared to admit.
    Or is it a case of "The Rabbi always knows Bescht!"

    ReplyDelete