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Sunday, 16 July 2017

134) LETTERS FROM THE BAAL SHEM TOV IN ENGLISH FOR THE FIRST TIME:

LETTERS FROM THE CHERSON GENIZA – TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH.  PART 5.



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 otherworldly 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) regarding 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.


[The following four letters document the correspondence between the Baal Shem Tov and his reluctant (at that stage) future student/successor, R. Dov Ber (or Maggid) of Mezeritch. This correspondence took place during the year 5512 (1752), a mere twelve years before the Ball Shem Tov’s passing in 1760.]
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DOCUMENT 100:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. Dovber of Mezeritch, stating that he senses that R. Dovber is reluctant to meet with him. The Baal Shem Tov, nevertheless, asks him to consider meeting and even debating with him, as he has great plans for the two of them to disseminate the new Chassidic teachings:


B”H
Monday (Parshat Korach) 5512 (1752). Medzebuzh.

The honourable genius, holy and famous rabbi, with a good name, who is proficient at both the revealed and hidden (traditions), the G-dly Kabbalist etc, etc, our teacher the rabbi, Rabbi Dovber, may you live forever:

The men who came to (inform) me, transmitted verbally to me that (you) holy and honourable one y’n, had already made up your holy mind to come to me and study under my tutorage[1], (and remain) under the shade of the fear of G-d, that the pleasantness of G-d should be upon you.[2]

However, since I see that that you, honourable one y’n[3], are still doubtful (about coming to study with me and) carrying out that objective - for this reason, I present you with these sentences (and urge you) not to listen to the untrue and false words (spoken against me), which the reckless have submitted to you, for their foundation is baseless. I am not like this (as they have suggested).

As for me, all I want is to do good to (my) fellow man and not, Heaven forefend, to bring them down.  
Please determine just once to come and debate with me, and if I am not (deemed) favourable in your eyes, honourable one y’n, then the choice is yours (to leave).

But Heaven is my whiteness that (should you choose to come to me) your spirit will (be enhanced) twofold, and you will be satiated by the illumination of your soul, and I will be your support.
Know, honourable one y’n, that this is the first letter I have written to another in this regard. But I know that (you) the holy one are the chosen of G-d to disseminate my teachings, (and) the Torah of G-d is pure.

Therefore, turn from your intransigence and (acceptance of) gossip and come to me. It will (then) be good for us and all of Israel, for two are better than one. By this, I mean that (we are better) if we are incorporated in the oneness (of G-d).

And (on that note) I will end with the oneness (of) Hashem, G-d of Israel.[4]
From, the beloved of your soul, from far and near;

I (eagerly) await to hear (of your pending visit) and to see you within the precincts of my home;
Yisrael, son of our teacher the rabbi, Rabbi Eliezer Baal Shem.
Medzebuzh.

(P.S.) I am sending this letter to you, honourable one y’n, by means of my Torah (observant) student, the holy man, Mr Nachman yc’n[5] of Horodenka yz’v[6].

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DOCUMENT 99:

The response of R. Dovber of Mezeritch to the previous letter, informing him that he has reconsidered, and intends to meet with the Baal Shem Tov:


B”H
Sunday (Parshat) Balak 5512 (1752). Lukotsh.

To the honourable and holy one, the holy and famous rabbi, who is most elevated, our teacher and rabbi, the rabbi of all of the children of the exile etc, our teacher the rabbi, Rabbi Yisrael n’y Baal Shem Tov, in the holy community of Medzebuzh:
I received your letter from Monday (Parshat) Korach.

In a few days I will come to see (meet) you, and if it pleases G-d it will be concluded well.

From the truly insignificant,

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

(P.S.) I will tell the truth and not be ashamed because I saw a good sign in your student, the rabbi, (Moharan) our teacher the rabbi, Nachman n’y of Horodenka, who delivered the (previous) letter. (I see that) he is righteous and holy, and how much more so must be his teacher.
Even the student (R. Nachman of Horodenka) breathed into me a spirit of life. I, therefore, anticipate all good, sela, amen.

From, the abovementioned, Dovber.

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DOCUMENT 71:

Letter from Baal Shem Tov in response to the previous letter:




B”H
Wednesday (Parshat) Devarim. Medzebuzh. 5512 (1752).

To the holy and honourable, the genius and holy rabbi, a man of G-d, the famous Chassid (who is) expert at (the) revealed and hidden (traditions) etc, our teacher rabbi, Rabbi Dovber, son of the holy rabbi, Mr Avraham, may you live:

I have received the writings of your holy hand. Reading between the lines it is clear that you have decided in your holy mind, to come to me.

Even though I can see clearly that you have been an opponent to our ways up to this time[7], nevertheless, I hope that if you do come (to me), then G-d willing, you will taste of the Tree of Knowledge and live forever.[8]

Know, honourable and holy one y’n, that matters that relate to the highest aspects of the universe, rest between us. So therefore hurry and come and remain permanently (with me).
From the one who loves you and requests your welfare at all times and seasons;

Yisrael, son of our teacher the rabbi, Rabbi Eliezer Baal Shem, from Medzebuzh.

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UNNUMBERED DOCUMENT:

Response from R. Dovber of Mezeritch telling the Baal Shem Tov he will be delayed in arriving due to illness:


(Undated:)

To the honourable and holy rabbi, Master of all the children of the Exile, Mr Yisrael, who is known as (the) Baal Shem Tov, may you live:

While on the way (to you) I received your (previous) holy letter.

However, due to circumstances of my ill health, I shall remain here in the holy community (unnamed). And G-d willing, after the holy Shabbat, I will come to meet your holy countenance y’n, with joy and with trembling.

And my heart tells me that I was mistaken up till now (by not accepting you) – and may G-d forgive (me).

From the one who, from (my) heart, soul and desires, requests your well-being,

Dovber, son of our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Avraham.

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DOCUMENT 260:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. Dovber of Mezeritch telling him he will be away for  some time and handing over the position of leadership of the Movement to him for the duration of his absence:


B”H
Monday (Parshat) Noach. Ladmir. 5515 (1755).

To my student, the holy genius, an officer of the Torah, whose (very) name is holy, Mr Dovber n’y:
G-d spoke once and I heard twice[9]. A voice called out and opened the way (for me to go) to go out and come to Lvov for a period of two months.

Consequently, I (temporarily) place the (leadership) position (of the Chassidic Movement) on your holy shoulders, may you live, to conduct it according to your holy will. Your energy is (like) my energy, and your hand is (like) my hand. And those whom you bless will be blessed by G-d. Amen so may it be (His) will.

From your teacher who is giving of his glory to you,

Yisrael, son of our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Eliezer Baal Shem from Medzebuzh.

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DOCUMENT 8:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. Dovber of Mezeritch warning him not to take sides or interfere in the Emden/Eybeschutz controversy (where, amongst other accusations, R. Yaakov Enden accused R. Yehonatan Eybeschutz of being a secret follower of the false messiah Shabbatai Tzvi and of having Sabbatean amulets).[10]


B”H
Everv Shabbat. 3 Menachem Av 5515 (1755).

To my student the rabbi and holy genius, an officer of the Torah, a man of G-d etc., our teacher the rabbi, Rabbi Berenish[11], may you live:

Since I have (already) heard that you are sticking your head into the controversy between these two geniuses and pillars of the earth, namely: the holy Gaon Mr. Yaakov (Emden), son of the holy Gaon Mr Tzvi[12] n‎‎’y, and the holy Gaon Mr. Yehonatan (Eybeschutz) n’y.

I warn you now not to interfere in a controversy that is not yours. (This is because of) a hidden reason. And only let your eyes look at (be concerned with) your teacher. Enough said.

From your rabbi and teacher who always requests your well-being;

Yisrael, son of our teacher the rabbi, Rabbi Eliezer Baal Shem from Medzebuzh.

(P.S.) I have also written (a similar letter with a similar warning) to the holy Gaon Mr...(yud “ yud...missing text...)[13] n’y.

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DOCUMENT 208:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. Dovber of Mezeritch informing him of certain Kavanot or mystical intentions:


To my exemplary student, the brilliant rabbi, officer of the Torah, (and) man of G-d etc., our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Dovber n’y:

After inquiring after your health, mem[14]. I received the letter from your holy hand and I want to advise you, my son, that whenever you want to purify yourself in a mikveh[15], wash your hands and forehead in water and concentrate on the Kavanot (mystical intentions) of the mikveh, which I have taught you when you were still in my home.

I also want to add that on the two days of the holy Rosh haShanah, may it dawn on us for good, (just) before the sounding of the Shofar, imagine my presence before you, and also the presence of my well known teacher, who you (also) merited to see on one occasion.[16] 

(If you do this) then will you go on your holy path with confidence and without any (spiritual) accusations, or bad occurrences Heaven forefend.

If you only understand and know this you will be successful when you (will travel) to a village without a (Jewish) community for the High Holy Days, for this (journey) is Providence from Heaven.

I will (also) send my two students, namely:
The holy rabbi, the faithful of my house, Moharan[17] of Horodenka n’y, who will act as the prayer leader because of his pleasant voice and (because of his ability to) pierce the heavens (with his prayer).
And secondly (I will also send) the holy and pure rabbi etc., my student, our teacher the rabbi Kehot of Veritsh n’y, who will act as Baal Tokea[18], and he will also explain....(missing text)....to you through...

And may G-d grant that you are written and sealed for good, and may our prayers ascend on high (this) Rosh haShana. Amen, so may it be His will.

From your rabbi who always requests your well-being, (who is) waiting to see you (again) soon.
With much life and peace;

Yisrael, son of our teacher the rabbi, Rabbi Eliezer Baal Shem.

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[1] lit.: to ‘shelter under my shade’.
[2] As a sign of respect the letters are written in the third person.
[3] Y’n is an abbreviation for yair nishmato which means ‘may your (his) soul shine’.
[4] Possibly a play on the name Israel Baal Shem Tov.
[5] Y’cn is an abbreviation for yechi nafsho which means ‘may his soul live’.
[6] Yz’v is an abbreviation for yishmereiho Tzuro veyichyu which means ‘may the Creator protect him and may he live’.
[7] Le’e is an abbreviation for le’eit atah which means ‘up to this time’.
[8] This is an unusual usage of the phrase Tree of Knowledge, which, according to the Genesis narrative, brought (good and) evil. It was the Tree of Life which gave eternal life. Perhaps the inference may be that after tasting the Chassidic Tree of Knowledge, the recipient would ‘live forever’. It may, on the other hand, simply be a mistake of the copyist.
[9] An expression suggesting that the Baal Shem Tov was able to interpret subtleties and inferences of Divine inspiration and act on them.
[10] See Document 192 and 194.
[11] Term of endearment for Dovber.
[12] Also known as the Chacham Tzvi. An an aside, according to R. Yitzchak Zilberstein (Tuvcha Yabiu p. 152) R. Eybeschutz appeared to one of his students in a dream, informing him that both he and R. Emden were sitting together in Gan Eden - while all those who fanned the controversy were stuck in Gehinnom. (I thank Rabbi Chaim Finkelstein for this contribution.)
[13] These are the markings as they appear in the original letter, but it is impossible to read the name in the original as it is illegible due to age.
[14] I do not know what this mem means.
[15] My assumption is that this would apply where no mikveh is available. (See the latter part of the letter where it is clear that the Maggid is about to travel to a village for the High Holidays.)
[16] This reference to the Baal Shem Tov’s unnamed teacher is also found in document 170, where he asks his wife to hide the teachings from the unnamed rav hayedua (the well-known rabbi). In this letter the reference is to his mori hayedua (his well- known teacher).
[17] Moharan is an abbreviation for Moreinu haRav Nachman (of Horodenka, the paternal grandfather of R. Nachman of Breslov.)
[18] The Shofar blower.

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