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Sunday, 14 January 2018

158) IBN EZRA QUOTES KARAITE COMMENTATORS SEVERAL HUNDRED TIMES:

Sefer haGoralot, a treatise on astrology, by Ibn Ezra.
INTRODUCTION:

Avraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra (1089-1167) was born in Tudela, Spain. He travelled extensively throughout North Africa, Egypt, Italy, France and even spent some time in Oxford and London. It appears that he passed away in England (allegedly after being attacked by wolves) and it is even suggested that he may have been buried there. He was widely respected as a poet and scholar and is probably best known for his various Torah commentaries.

THE MOON CRATER:

Ibn Ezra’s acclaim was not only within Jewish circles. He even has the moon crater Abenezra named after him. This may have been because, in addition to his Biblical commentaries, he wrote a number of treatises on mathematics and numbers, in which he expounded on the old Indian system of mathematics, which later influenced the Arabic mathematicians. He also wrote about the ‘Galgal’ (the ‘circle’) otherwise known as the numeral zero, which he brought to the attention of some in Europe.[1]

(For more on Ibn Ezra see KOTZK BLOG 94.)

PSHAT – THE SIMPLE MEANING OF THE TORAH TEXT:

Ironically, it is the Master Commentator, Rashi, who is commonly known as the great expounder of the Pshat, or literal and simple meaning of the Torah text. Yet, even a cursory examination of Rashi, reveals that his commentary is not always Pshat. Rather it is replete with Medrashic sources and rabbinical allegories – which do not always adhere to the literal meaning of the text – and which instead often reveal a hidden meaning or a moral lesson.[2]

It is evident, however, that it was the purists from the Pshat School of biblical commentators, such as Ibn Ezra, who really expounded on the literal interpretation of the texts, without relying upon Medrashic allegory.

AN EXAMPLE OF ‘PSHAT’:

An example of this difference between Rashi and Ibn Ezra can be seen in their respective commentaries on Bereishit 14:14:

When Avraham learned that Lot had been taken captive, the Torah text says that he summoned 318 men[3] to save him.  Rashi, however, quoting the Rabbis, says it was not an army but just one man, namely, Eliezer his servant, whose name had the gematria or numerical value of 318:




Ibn Ezra, on the other hand, dismisses this ‘drash’ (allegorical interpretation) as it involves numerology. Numerology, he says, is no way to prove anything because it can be twisted and abused to create any outcome:


THE KARAITE INFLUENCE:

The Karaites were an influential, significant and large number of Jews who ignored the rabbinical interpretations of the Torah and relied solely upon the literal meaning of the text as they imagined the ancient Israelites to have done during biblical times. The movement may have had its roots going back to the second century BCE,[4] but they certainly crystallised under the leadership of Anan ben David (715-795 or 811).

They became so powerful that, at one time, with almost half of the Jewish population practising Karaism, it was thought to have been a strong contender for future Judaism. However, as we know, Rabbinical Judaism continued to remain the dominant mainstream.

(For more on the Karaites see KOTZK BLOG 63. and KOTZK BLOG 122.)

With the Karaite insistence on the pure and literal meaning of the Torah text, it is possible that Ibn Ezra, a ‘pshatist’, turned to some of their interpretations when he needed clarity on the Pshat.
In his book, Masters of the Word[5], R. Yonatan Koltach writes:

In his Torah commentary, Ibn Ezra quotes Karaite commentators extensively...
While he cites some Karaite interpretations with agreement and respect, such as...Aharon ben Yeshua and...Yeshua ben Yehudah, his stance...was principally defiant and discrediting.”

Nevertheless:

Ibn Ezra quotes Karaite commentators several hundred times in his Bible commentary.[6]
Indeed, he cites the Jerusalemite Karaite, Yeshua (ben Yehudah) at least forty times[7], seemingly in concurrence.

Moreover, Ibn Ezra quotes the Karaite, Yefet (ben Ali HaLevi...) more than one hundred times[8], often complementing his interpretations.”


By comparison, Philip Birnbaum writes that Ibn Ezra only quotes R. Saadia Gaon five times.[9]

OPPOSITION TO IBN EZRA:

These ideas did not sit well with other Torah scholars and thus we find that R. Shlomo Luria (1510-1573, also known as Maharshal) wrote:

(Ibn Ezra) has lent support to heretics...and those of little faith.”[10]

R. Yosef Delmedigo (1591-1655, also known as the Yashar miKandiya) who spent much time amongst the Karaites, writes that the majority of Ibn Ezra’s commentary is taken from Karaite sources!

In a similar manner, Abarbanel (1437-1508) writes:
(Ibn Ezra was) influenced by Karaite commentators and occasionally follows their opinions.”[11]

RAMBAM:

Rambam, on the other hand, had no issues with Ibn Ezra, and he also seems to have been well acquainted with the writings of Yefet ben Ali[12].
Quite to the contrary, Rambam praised Ibn Ezra as can be seen by what he wrote in the letter to his son:

Do not pay attention or divert your mind on commentaries, treatises and books other than those of Ibn Ezra, which alone are meaningful and profitable to all who study them with intelligence, understanding and deep insight’.[13]

WHO WAS THE KARAITE ‘YEFET BEN ALI’?

Ibn Ezra, as mentioned, quotes the Karaite Yefet ben Ali over one hundred times.
Yefet ben Ali haLevi was born in the early 900’s in Basra (present-day Iraq) and died in Jerusalem around 980. He was known by the Karaites as the Maskil haGolah (Intellect of the Exile).

He wrote about his dispute with Rav Saadia Gaon (882-942) and tried to prove the superiority of the Karaite view. Besides attacking the Rabbinites, as the mainstream Jews were called, he severely criticised Christianity as well as Islam.

From his commentary on Isaiah it is clear that in his view there are four categories of Jews:

1)      The Reish Galuta (Exilarchs) who pretend to have knowledge.
2)      The scholars to whom the Reish Galuta teaches the ‘nonsense’ of Talmud as well as sorcery.
3)      The common folk who do not study and only know about attending synagogue from Shabbat to Shabbat and to say ‘Shema’ and answer Amen.
4)      The ‘real’ Karaite Maskilm (Scholars) who truly understand Torah and teach generously without demanding payment for their services.

In another work[14] he argued that, in his view, there is no evidence of an Oral Tradition within the Written Torah, and purported that the Mishna and Talmud infringe on the Biblical prohibition of Lo Tosifu - “Do not add to the word I have commanded you.”[15]

Yefet ben Ali also broke with the general Karaite view that the study of secular science was to be discouraged. On the contrary, he insisted that it be studied as a pre-cursor to religious theology.
Besides the two exceptions of the Biblical stories of the Burning Bush and the Song of Songs, no other parts of the Torah were to be interpreted allegorically.

Amazingly, this was the man Ibn Ezra was prepared to quote from more than a hundred times!
According to E.Z. Melamed, the Karaites went so far as to claim that Yefet ben Ali was indeed Ibn Ezra’s teacher![16]

ARTSCROLL QUOTING KARAITES?

According to Professor Marc Shapiro:

“...Ibn Ezra has no reticence in citing Karaite interpreters, yet as we know, ArtScroll only cites ‘accepted’ authorities, and won’t even mention the Soncino commentary by name...(However) there are some times when ArtScroll errs in this matter.

For example, in its commentary to Jonah, p. 111 it cites ‘Yefes ben Ali’ (who is quoted by Ibn Ezra). Presumably, the ArtScroll editor assumed that he was a rishon.

In truth, he was a Karaite, and his inclusion in the Jonah commentary is diametrically opposed to the standard set up by ArtScroll with regard to which commentaries they will cite, a standard that opposes the Ibn Ezra-Maimonides approach (adopted by Soncino) of ‘accept the truth from whomever said it’”.[17]

ANALYSIS:

To be clear, Ibn Ezra was a fervent Rabbinite and opposed the non-Halachic practices of the Karaites. However, this did not prevent him from making use of Karaite interpretations when it came to the actual literal meaning of some of the words of the Torah text.

The same debate over the permissibility of using ‘extraneous’ or ’outside’ source to enhance Torah knowledge still rages today. Can one, for example, use academic writings or research done by non-religious people, to compliment one’s Torah study?

The answer to that question would fundamentally lie in the view one adopts regarding the precedent set by people like Ibn Ezra.

(For an even more extreme example of ‘Karaite precedent’ in the Mesora, see KOTZK BLOG 122.)




[1] See (Article): A History of Zero, Ancient Indian Mathematics, by J J O’Connor and E f Robertson.
[2] Yet Rashi said of himself that he only came to expound on the Pshat.
[3] Or ‘desciples’.
[4] This is the view of R. Yehudah haLevi, who was Ibn Ezra’s friend, or possibly even his father-in-law. See Sefer haKuzari, by R. Yehuda haLevi, where the roots of Karaism are traced back to the reign of King Jannai.
[5] Vol 2, p. 280 and 309.
[6] (Emphasis mine.) Although in his introduction, Ibn Ezra does state that Karaite commentaries are unreliable.
[7] See Ibn Ezra’s commentary on Bereshit 28:12 and Shemot 7:12, 17:16.
[8] See Ibn Ezra’s commentary on Shemot 3:3, 12:16, 22:27.

[9] In the Minor Prophets alone, Ibn Ezra quotes Yefet ben Ali forty-four and Ran Saadia Gaon only five times. See: Yefet ben 'Ali and His Influence on Biblical Exegesis, by Philip Birnbaum, The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Jan.1942), pp. 257-271.

[10] See Introduction to Chullin and Introduction to Bava Kamma.
[11] See Abarbanel on Vayikra 19:20, Bamidbar 21:1.

[12] See: From Judah Hadassi to Elijah Bashyatchi, by Daniel  J. Lasker, p. 128

[13] See: Letters of Maimonides, Stitskin,  p156. It must be pointed out, though, that Rambam did not agree with all the writings of Ibn Ezra, particularly those which dealt with astrology (such as Sefer haGoralot which is pictured above).
[14] This was an epistle published by Pinsker under the title Likkutei Kadmoniyot, p. 19.
[15] Devarim 4:2.
[16] E Z Melamed (1975) pp. 676-679. (According to Marc Shapiro, this is a ‘false legend’.)
[17] See The Seforim blog:  More about Rashbam on Genesis Chapter 1 and Further Comments about ArtScroll, by Marc B. Shapiro.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

157) I FOUND ‘MY RAV KOOK’:


INTRODUCTION:

I have always been intrigued by how Rav Kook is both revered in many circles yet how he is almost hidden away at the same time.

We do know that much of his writings have been censored and have ‘vanished’ and were it not for good detective work we would not have access to them today. See The Censored Writings of Rav Kook.

I recently discovered a fascinating site called My Rav Kook, which is an important resource for people wanting to explore some of Rav Kook’s teachings, which have been beautifully translated into understandable English.

The translator is Rochi Ebner - daughter of R. Michael Bernstein who was a Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University - and she has created a magnificent work.

I have taken the liberty to quote parts of the Introduction, where she describes her relationship with her father and gives us some insight into his thinking.

I am sharing much of this Introduction for three reasons:

1)    R. Bernstein’s absolute commitment to a fiercely independent learning style resonates with me so strongly because it reminds me of the style of the Kotzker Rebbe. So does his ability to step out of Social Judaism, and so does his fearlessness.
2)    I was quite (but not totally) surprised to see that the social norms which are a hallmark of much of the more (religiously) right wing Judaism with which I am familiar, are just as active in the so called Modern Orthodox and Religious Zionist circles too.
3)    And I liked the way Rochi Ebner was able to transcend her societal pressures and follow her soul, acknowledging how Rav Kook has been ‘re-framed’ by his lukewarm modern followers. (The Kotzker was also re-framed, except perhaps in the opposite direction).

FROM THE INTRODUCTION TO ‘MY RAV KOOK’, by Rochi Ebner:

This work would never have come to be without the devotion of my first teacher, my father, HaRav Michael ben Efraim Bernstein, z"l, who bequeathed me the boundless inheritance of Torah study, as well as a very peculiar childhood. For someone who’d been a Rosh Yeshiva, Papa had very non-conformist ideas about Jewish education: one of them was learning with his daughter every day.

He had not grown up in the 'yeshiva system,' but came from a simple family on the Lower East Side of New York where he attended public schools and an after-school Hebrew program. He was mainly self-taught in Torah when he became a student of Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik, from whom he received ordination. Self-teaching characterized his whole life, as did a kind of radical individuality.

Papa was fiercely independent in his learning style and his halachic rulings...my father studied Christian texts in the original Latin and Greek and had many books in his vast, well-used library that were considered heretical by halachic authorities); the great men who came to seek his advice over the years testified to widespread respect for his creativity and devoutness. He was a holy elitist of sorts, at war with what he perceived as a deadening mediocrity in the world of Jewish learning and teaching: he did not trust institutionalized learning 'systems.'

WHAT DID YOU NOT LEARN TODAY?[1]

He sent me to a Yeshiva elementary school for a while, but not with a whole heart. "What did you skip in school today?" he'd ask when I got home everyday – and, indeed, sometimes sections of Torah dealing with sexuality had been skipped by the teacher, or sections deemed 'too complicated.' "Get your Chumash," he'd say, "and let's look at it now." And Papa found the practice of teaching young American children 'ivrit be'ivrit'– ancient Hebrew texts discussed in modern Hebrew – absurd: "They don't know what 'vayomer' means and they don't know what 'hu amar' means," he complained to the school board after seeing all the time I put in memorizing sheets of Hebrew-Hebrew translations in third grade. Torah texts, he felt, should be explained in 'mama loshen,' in the person's native language. This did not mean, of course, not learning Hebrew.

My father was a scholar of Semitic languages and the infinite richness of Biblical Hebrew was his true love; he delighted in it in a way that infected his many students over the years with his own wonder and delight. He just felt that matters of God and belief were so important that they should be explored with the fewest obstacles, which meant probing them in the language one was born into, the language of one's own mind, while at the same time keeping the Hebrew text central.

My father lost his battle with the elementary school board, of course, but in the time he spent teaching Torah to me, after school and during summers in the mountains, the language of our learning was English, and pushing the boundaries of that tongue to extract dimensional meaning from the sacred Hebrew text expanded my knowledge of both languages, and of human perception itself.

But he was a stubborn man, my Papa, and was not content to remedy the sins of the American yeshiva day school system in a piecemeal way. By the time I was ready for high school he put a more radical plan into effect and pulled me out of the yeshiva system entirely, while leaving my brothers in it. I was sent to Hunter College High School, a good New York public high school for girls (it’s now mixed) where I could get a solid secular education, something Papa deemed essential. And he took on my Torah education himself, with his own unique methodologies.

We learned together every day.
Papa didn't think of himself as a Rosh Yeshiva or a Professor of Semitics; he called himself a 'melamed', simply a teacher of children, although most of his students at Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel Graduate School were candidates for rabbinic ordination and post-graduate degrees. And the goal of all his teaching methods was independence in learning.

He was an auto-didact whose goal was to teach others to be auto-didacts and I was lucky enough to be one of them. The Talmud says that it is incumbent on a father to teach his child to swim, and while my father did not fulfill that directive – actually, he never learned to swim himself – he taught me to swim in the 'ocean of Torah,' to get where I needed or chose to go in it under my own power. To search for my own answers to my own questions, independently.

I didn't know it when I was growing up, but this is unusual. I thought that all Jewish fathers learned Torah with their children, and I thought the ultimate goal of all teachers – including parents, of course – was to liberate students to take their own intellectual and spiritual journeys. As an adult, of course, I know that this often isn't so: most parents don't learn Torah with their children (apart from homework), and most Torah teaching has as an aim (whether conscious or unconscious) – of keeping students attached and dependent on teachers and experts and dogma, never on themselves and their own explorations and intuitive wonderings and knowings.

THE FORBIDDEN QUESTIONS:

My father taught me to honor my own questions. "Nu, what's your question?" he'd ask after every verse of Torah we learned. Even as I grew older and our learning became more complex, and there were all the Sages and commentators' questions to be examined and appreciated, he would still ask: "And what's your question?" And there were no restraints on questions, there were no 'forbidden questions.' And he, as a teacher, was never afraid to say "I don't know." "I don't know, but let's look it up," or "I don't know but let's think about it." This did nothing to prepare me for life in the real world where, I found out later, there are forbidden questions, especially in the world of religion. And even if the forbidden-questions rule is not spoken out loud, we get socialized very young not to ask them.

"If God is everywhere, is He in the toilet?" is a question a four-year-old might ask, making his parents uncomfortable. They might try to change the subject, and if the little one keeps asking the question they might finally say that we don't talk about God that way. Certainly by the time a child is studying in a day school or yeshiva he knows not to ask it. And if he dared to, many a teacher would turn it against the child, telling him that it's a disgusting or impertinent question; the child might be sent from the room for inciting the other students to laughter. Because most teachers find it so hard to say 'I don't know' – which, of course, might be a fair answer to whether God is in the toilet or not – they turn the question against the asker; it is the asker who is at fault for having the question. Never is the question validated as a question with meaning, which, of course, it is.

PERMISSIBLE QUESTIONS:

The fact that some questions are forbidden reshapes the permissible dialogue of Torah Judaism. It often feels like the only questions one may ask are halachic questions: how big does my etrog have to be; how many days do I count before I go to the mikva; is this chicken kasher or tref? Spiritual questions about my relationship with God are answered, at best, by a list of behaviors that He wants of me: shaking a lulav on Sukkot; eating matza on Pesach; not sleeping with my neighbor's wife. Spirituality, the inner journey, tends to be neglected territory, forbidden territory, even though spirituality is what religion says it is all about.

What do we do with our forbidden questions? What do we do with our innocent wonderings about God and the world and ourselves? We hide them away, but they do not disappear. They show up as spiritual unease and dissatisfaction; an ache. A longing for something that we cannot even name....

THE ’HIDDEN TORAH’ OF RAV KOOK:

Traditionally, Kabbalistic knowledge has always been exclusive, restricted. Before becoming a student of Kabbala under the tutelage of a Mekubal (a Master of Kabbala who had received the tradition from a Master of Kabbala), a man (yes, it was always a man) was required to be very learned in the Body of Torah, the Written and Oral Law. He must have shown tremendous spiritual dedication and he had to have developed the maturity that only life experience brings – one did not begin to study Kabbala before age 40 or before marriage. The secrets of Torah were carefully kept from the masses – they weren't ready, the time wasn't ripe.

But now it's time. The very first piece by Rav Kook which we will look at together declares it clearly – the time has arrived for the revelation of the secrets of Torah. We're a little late, in fact – Rav Kook wrote this piece during the First World War and the 'now' he speaks of is a century old. His call for revealing the Hidden Torah and pursuing new spiritual skills was not exactly taken up by the religious establishment. It is almost 100 years later and we are still choking on forbidden questions.

AFTER DISCOVERING RAV KOOK:

It was painful that Rav Kook's ideas about a new mode of Jewish relatedness to God had no room to grow in the religious-Zionist environments in which I lived, neither in New York nor in Jerusalem. His call was for radical individuality and a huge expansion of the modalities of Torah study, but the Modern Torah-Zionist circle into which I had been born and which I loved so deeply had, right before my eyes, grown more and more narrow in its definitions of halachic behavior, more and more rigid in its thinking, more and more exclusive about membership (and, frankly, more and more bizarre about what Rav Kook's own Torah might mean). To be accepted, one had to wear the uniform, speak a certain political vocabulary and send your kids to the right schools. God didn't come up often in conversation. I'd been terribly uncomfortable in this world for a long time; it felt like serving a God I did not know, and Who certainly couldn't be very fond of me. Nonetheless there were rewards for it – I was accepted in its inner circles as long as I kept any criticism to myself. This dissonance was deadly for me.

But without Rav Kook's voice in my ear I do not know if I would have had the courage to change my life; without his 'permission' to see things a new way, to take the call within me as seriously real, I don't think I would ever have dared to leave my secure, comfortable position within that world, my family and friends, and set out on a journey into the desert, in pursuit of the Beloved who had sent me the love letter.

The Religious-Zionist world is still uncomfortable with Rav Kook, even though it claims him as its own. Whenever I offered to teach Rav Kook's spiritual works at Jewish educational institutions, I was struck by the almost total uniformity of response. The dean or director – who was often, but not always, a man – would get a look of discomfort, shift position in his chair, stroke his beard if he had one, and say: "Hmm... that's very difficult material."

It is a kind of code, with many layers of meaning. One possible meaning is that he or she was saying "I read Rav Kook and didn't understand a word." Another implication might be – or perhaps this is all in my mind – how could a woman understand it? But it could also be that the discomfort is natural, that it comes because Rav Kook's work is so different from what we traditionally think of as Torah. It doesn't have the usual form of verse by verse or topic by topic.

Rav Kook writes in short pieces – I call them Glimmerings. His work is really a spiritual diary, daily recordings of visions and insights, which only afterwards were edited and ordered by his son and his students and scattered amongst many texts. His work is not the familiar dialectic of learning we are used to – argument and counterargument – and is not even written in the more or less familiar language of other Kabbalistic works, with their vocabularies of sefirot and gematriyot.

And most discomfiting of all – and you will find this discomfiting, too, and stroke your beard if you have one – is that Rav Kook's works are not about ideas out there… they're about you. His sweet voice whispers in your ear about your infinite potential.



[1] Sub-Headings are mine.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

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




LETTERS FROM THE CHERSON GENIZA:

PART 14.


INTRODUCTION:

What follows is my 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. See Why I Believe the Letters of the Cherson Geniza may not be Forgeries.

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.

This is Part 14 in my series of translations and the others can be viewed by scrolling down to the previous posts.

..........................................................................................................................................................
                                                                                   
DOCUMENT 214.

Letter from R Menachem Mendel of Brod to R. Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye accompanying a bill of divorce and requesting the latter to arrange to have it delivered urgently to a certain woman:


B”H

Bar 5507 (1747). Sunday (Parshat) Miketz.

To the Honourable and Holy, the Rabbi, Holy Gaon, Holy Chassid, Holy Lamp, Sinai[1], Uprooter of Mountains[2], a Lion of the Celestial, Man of G-d, Officer of the Torah, Example to the Generation, M…. (Text missing[3]) Yaakov Yosef haCohen, may you live, Speaker of Truth, from the holy community of Sharogrod and Polnoya:

Accept, elevated Torah personality, the bill of divorce (enclosed herewith) and deliver it immediately - to the woman Ester bat R. Yechiel - through the agency of your messenger.

(I am unable to translate the last sentence of this letter.)
 
From your friend who requests your continued well being, with love.

With great compassion,

The insignificant Menachem Mendel from the holy community of Brod.

………............................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 289.

Letter from Baal Shem Tov to R. Zev Kitzes[4] rebuking him for acting unilaterally:


B”H

(During) The Three Weeks, 5507 (1747) Laperet Katan[5] (in the) village of Ternovka.

Greetings and blessings to the Honourable, beloved one and beloved of G-d; the Holy Rabbi and Gaon, Man of G-d; our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Zev Kitzes, n”y:

I was most surprised (to see) that you, honourable and holy one, did the well-known matter without my endorsement.

However, notwithstanding that, honourable one, (you are) forgiven and I bless you that you should succeed.

And I am sure that without any doubt, (and) with G-d’s help, blessed be He, it will (ultimately) be good.

And G-d will raise the honour of Israel - and we will see the consolation of Zion and the holy city of Jerusalem, speedily and in our days. Amen. Sela.

From your friend who seeks your eternal well being,

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

………...........................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 74

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. David of Kalimia suggesting he leave his town until ‘the anger subsides’ and then, together, they can flee to the safety of Russia:




B”H
Wednesday (Parshat) Chukat, here in the holy community of Yasi.

To the Honourable holy one, the Righteous Rabbi, Man of G-d, the Gaon and Chassid, the Man of Truth etc., our teacher the rabbi, Rabbi David n,y, the Maggid[6] from the holy community of Kalimia, yz”v:[7]

I have received the writing from your pure hand and they were for me like a staff and support.
In my view, it would be prudent for you to uproot your dwelling (place from) there (Kalimia), until (such time as) the anger subsides.

You surely remember, honourable and holy one, the Targum on this (week's Parsha) Chukat, ‘Da gezirat Oraita’, which is brought in the Poskim that on Friday (of Parshat) Chukat, many books were burned. Enough said.

Therefore, if you are able, honourable and holy one, try to come to me here in Yasi and together we will escape to the land of Russia where there, please G-d, we will be surrounded by freedom. Sela.

I am hereby awaiting your successful arrival, or at least an urgent letter.

May G-d, blessed be He, help that you be spared from all means of evil, Heaven forefend, and may you and all of Israel only know peace. Amen, so may it be His will.

From your faithful friend, with eternal love, who seeks your wellbeing in heart and soul,

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

…………......................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 217.

Letter from R Yeshaya of Yanov to the Baal Shem Tov informing him that R Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye completely disagrees with the latter on a certain issue:[8]


B”H

Wednesday (Parshat) Kedoshim 5509 (1749). Yanov.

To the Honourable, Holy, our master, teacher and rabbi the Baal Shem Tov, may you live until the arrival of Yinom[9]:

I transmitted (your suggestion) to your holy student Rabbi Yaakov Yosef (of Polnoye).

However, because of his spirit of prophecy, he does not agree (with the suggestion) under any circumstances in the world.

Therefore, to my insignificant mind, (I suggest that) he speaks directly to you at a time convenient (to you both).

From your insignificant student,

Yeshaya, son of Sheindel of Yanov.

…….........................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 250.

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to his brother-in-law, the Kitover, asking him to explain a supernatural event which had just occurred to him (the Besht):[10]


B”H
Tuesday (Parshat) Eikev 5509 (1749). Lvov.

To my brother-in-law, the Holy Rabbi and Gaon, Example to the Generation etc. etc., Mr A(vraham) Gershon (of Kitov), n”y:

This week I was most surprised, more than any other time in my life, when G-d showed me wonders:

I witnessed my own (successful attempt at) reviving the dead (which I was able to have achieved with a) particular sick (individual).

But I am afraid that, Heaven forefend, I was unworthy or, Heaven forefend, the (Satan) was dancing (with glee), Heaven forefend, while (possibly bringing me) to a test, Heaven forefend.

Clarify this (for me), holy and honourable one - and also pray for me.

From your brother-in-law who believes in G-d and in His servants, may they live.

Yisrael Baal Shem of Telust.


………...........................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 183.

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to his friend R. Mordechai haTzadik, asking him to bring the ‘secret writings’:


B”H
Monday evening (Parshat) Re’ei 5509 (1749). Ushpatzin.

To my friend the holy rabbi, Mr Mordechai of Telusk:

For G-d’s sake come (here) immediately for I see things that are not good (pertaining) to the congregation.

And two is better than one.

And we (will discuss) sweet secrets (because) “the secrets of G-d are for those who fear him”.

Promise me strongly that you will come here immediately.

Bring with you the (secret) writings which are known to you, from our holy teacher, whose soul is in Eden, because they are urgent to me.[11]

(From) your friend who seeks your well-being with faithful love,

Yisrael Baal Shem of Telust.

…................................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 111.

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to his in-law R. Moshe of Kitov[12] telling him not fear his enemies and assuring him of victory one way or the other:


B”H

Tuesday (Parshat) Bo 5509 (1749). Tartshin.

Greetings to the Honourable, beloved of G-d and beloved to all the house of Israel, my in-law[13], the Holy Rabbi and Gaon (before whom) all the paths of Heaven are illuminated etc. etc. etc., our teacher the rabbi, Rabbi Moshe of Kitov, n”y:

Regarding the matter which you inquired of me orally in the holy community of Ostroa - I am (now finally) able to decide that you should not fear (lit. that fear should not descend upon your head), because anyway (one looks at it) you, honourable and holy one, n”y, will succeed:

-Either those irresponsible ones will fall under your feet and you shall subdue them.

-Or (alternately), if Heaven forefend, they turn their ears from listening to you, then anyway, G-d will seek revenge upon them, and one by one they shall fall.

Therefore, my advice (which corresponds to:) “the advice of G-d which will endure”, is to girdle your loins like a brave one - and to trust in  “G-d the Man of war”, and He shall save you.

And all those who rise (up against you) shall be seized by the fear of the L-rd of Hosts and your holy greatness, may you live, shall be glorified.

And know, honourable and holy one, n’y, that (this letter) is what G-d has placed in my mouth to write to you. Enough said.

From your beloved, who continually seeks your welfare, your in-law who looks forward to all good (things). Sela.

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

………............................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 288.

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. Noach Segel acknowledging receipt of charity monies:


B”H

Tuesday (Parshat) Bo. 5509 (1749).Ostroa.

The  famous Torah Personality, General and Officer etc., our teacher the rabbi Noach Segel, n’y:

I received, by means of the messenger, your letter together with the list of donors and the sum of money (amounting to) 50 Adumim (which is the) funding for (the charity of) R. Meir Baal haNes, zal.


From your friend who lives you with heart, soul,

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

……................................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 20.

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to his student, R. David Lakes requesting he send him the unspecified letters which are known to the latter:


B”H

Monday (Parshat) Vayigash 5509 (1749).

Greetings to the Honourable, Beloved of my Soul, the Holy Rabbi and Tzadik, Man of G-d, our teacher the rabbi, Rabbi David Lakes, n'y:

I forgot, enclosed within a cloth in the box in my house, letters which are very important to me.

I request you to bring them, or send them, to me immediately - for in them are included the (unspecified) letters known to you, honourable and holy one, may you live.

From your teacher who wishes you an abundance of good,

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

……...........................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 113.

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to his student R Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye telling him not to altercate with R. Dovber and not to try to influence him to journey to him (the Baal Shem Tov):


B”H

Thursday (Parshat) Lech (Lecha) 5509 (1749). Medzebuzh.

To my student, the Holy Rabbi who is proficient in the revealed and hidden (teachings), Man of G-d, our teacher the rabbi, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef haKohen, n’y:

I heard that you have had an argument with the holy rabbi, the gaon, who I do not know, Rabbi Dovber n’y, (concerning your wish that) he should journey to me.

And that he, the abovementioned gaon, did not want to (come to meet me).

I want to inform you that all is from Heaven, even olive stones, let alone such a precious stone and pearl like this gaon.

Therefore don't you dare to do anything further in this matter as this is not what I desire.

There is nothing that does not have its place and there is no man who does not have his hour.

This I can declare with certainty, that G-d willing, he (R. Dovber) will (eventually) fall into our destiny (midst).

Amen. So may it be His will.

From your rabbi and teacher who blesses you with all good. Sela.

Israel, son of our teacher the rabbi, Rabbi Eliezer Baal Shem of Medzebuzh.[14]

……....................................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 368.

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to his brother-in-law R. Gershon Kitover confirming that the finances are in good order:


B”H”

Tuesday (Parshat) Lech (Lecha) 5510 (1750). Lvov.

To my dear and beloved brother-in-law, the Righteous and Holy Rabbi, expert in the revealed and hidden (tradition), Man of G-d, and the very awesome etc., our teacher the rabbi, Rabbi Avraham Gershon, n’y:

After inquiring after your welfare, (I wish to inform you that) I have received the letter from your holy hand and I am responding to you out of respect for you.

Regarding all the holy Nistarim[15] n’y, who are being (financially) supported by myself – (I remind you that) you, holy and honourable one, charged me with the duty of distributing (funds) to them.

(I am happy to report) that, thank G-d, I am fulfilling (my duty) - and each of them is receiving their allotted portion relative to where they are (situated) and (according) to their surroundings.

Furthermore, G-d has helped me - for thank G-d - I (was able to accumulate) for them even more (funding).

As an example, the holy Nistar, our teacher and rabbi, the Rabbi (unnamed) n’y, who is currently abiding in the holy community of Lodmir, receives on a monthly basis, more than his (pre-designated) portion of eight Rubles[16].

I now request of you to please remember and pray for my dear and G-d fearing daughter Adel(le) bat Leah Rachel, for a complete healing of her right ear - and remember her at all the holy places.

All the fellows in the shade of holiness (I.e. the holy brotherhood) are healthy and well.

From your brother-in-law who constantly seeks your welfare with a yearning heart and soul,

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

…….....................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 255:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. Nahum telling him not to touch the letters from his teacher, R. Adam Baal Shem as they belong only to him:


B”H

Tuesday (Parshat) Toldot 5510 (1750). Zolishchick.

To my Beloved, the Rabbi and Chassid, (the) Righteous and Upright, Mr Nahum, n’y:

Although you are (technically) correct, and all the objects found in your possession (are yours), however, do not touch (the letters included amongst the other objects) until I personally come (to you).

For amongst them are precious letters from the holy and G-dly R. Adam Baal Shem and according to the law of our holy Torah, they belong solely to me. Enough said.

I trust you will honour my words (request).

From your brother’s son (who is) awaiting all good. Sela,

Yisrael Baal Shem of Telust.

P. S. Greetings to your family.

………...........................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 17/9:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. Avraham Segel informing him that his Mezuzot are invalid:


B”H

Wednesday (Parshat) Miketz 5510 (1750). Brody.

To the Philanthropist and Officer, Rabbi Avraham, n’y, Segel:

Know that all your Mezuzot are invalid.

It is (now) three years that you have not fulfilled the mitzvah of Mezuza.

Therefore, remove (the old Mezuzot) and affix valid Mezuzot in their place.

For (through) this you will lengthen (your) days and years. Amen. So may it be (His) will.

From to one who constantly requests your wellbeing,

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

……................................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 282:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. Chain of Krasna informing him that the account of the ‘spiritual ascension’ is correct:


B”H

Tuesday (Parshat) Risa 5510 (1750). Brody.

The Holy Rabbi and Gaon, Man of G-d, Example of the Generation etc., Mr Chaim, n’y, of Krasna:

Everything which you, honourable and holy one, heard concerning the (spiritual process known as an) Oath and Ascension of the Soul, which I performed in the year 5507 (1747), is factual and true.[17]

From your friend and teacher who seeks your well-being.

Yisrael Baal Shem of Telust.

……..............................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 264:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to his daughter Adel requesting that she send his gartel:




B”H

Tuesday (Parshat) Acharei 5510 (1750). Here in the holy community of Litin.

To my dear daughter, the G-d fearing Mrs Adele, may you live.

Hand over to the faithful (assistant) of my house, Mr Nachman, n’y - because I have forgotten my Shabbat silk gartel - therefore I request you to send it to me via a trustworthy individual.

Yisrael Baal Shem of Medzebuzh.

Greetings to all my family, may they live forever.

…..................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 231:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. Yitzhak of Drohavitch suggesting they meet in Brody to discuss ‘secrets’ and the establishment of the future base of the movement:


B”H

Thursday (Pashat) Shelach. Kremanitz 5510 (1750).

To the holy Rabbi, the Tzadik of the Generation and its Glory, holy lamp etc., our teacher the rabbi Rabbi Yitzhak, n’y, from the holy community of Drohavitch:

I received the letter from your holy hand and was delighted.

G-d willing, I will be in the holy community of Brody for Shabbat Nachamu, for the gathering.

You too, holy and honourable one, should go there and we will (discuss) sweet secrets (including) where my particular location (or base from where I will operate) should be (established).

And whatever (advice) G-d places in your mouth I shall uphold.

The secrets of G-d are for those that fear Him.

From the one who loves you in truth,

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

…...............................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 213:

Letter from R. Leib Sistiner to the Baal Shem Tov informing him that the unnamed ‘Nistar[18]’ has left town:


B”H

Saturday night (Parshat) Chukat 5510 (1750), here in the holy community of Sudilkov.

To my holy teacher the Baal Shem Tov.

The Nistar (hidden mystic) is no longer in this city.

Therefore receive the (enclosed) gift (which you sent and which I am now returning)[19].

From your humble student,

Leib, son of Nechama Sistiner.

….........................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 128:

Document written by Baal Shem Tov on a small piece of paper for R. Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye to carry around with him:


B”H

Saturday night (Parshat) Ve’etchanan 5510 (1750).

I am writing to you - my special student, the holy Rabbi and Gabon Mr Yaakov Yosef haCohen, n’y - intentionally on a small piece of paper so that you can carry it around with your at all times.

(The following teachings are what) I received from my teacher and rabbi:

1)      When you get depressed, Heaven forefend, read the ‘Temanya Apei’ (the ‘Eight Faces’ or Psalm 119) in (consecutive) order and (then) backwards with great concentration - and this will help, G-d willing.
2)      In the morning before study, give charity. And similarly before going to sleep at night, specifically after reciting the Shema.
3)      On a day when you are angry, Heaven forefend, do not study at all on that day. Enough said.
4)      On a day when you fall into depression, Heaven forefend, do a mitzvah as soon as possible. An allusion to this is: ‘Israel is happy when (he) does something.’ (a play on Psalm 147)
5)      Study (Kabbalistic) Tikkunim every day all year around.

All this I received from my teacher and rabbi and I, your teacher, am handing it over to you. All of it has been tried and tested.

Yisrael Baal Shem from Medzebuzh.

…..............................................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 182:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. Yitzchak of Drohavitch stating that the latter's plan is too dangerous to follow through with:


B”H

Sunday (Parshat) Eikev 5510 (1750). Akop.

To the Holy and Pure Rabbi, one of the Elevated, Man of G-d etc., our teacher the rabbi, Rabbi Yitzchak, n’y, Speaker of Truth, from the holy community of Drohavitch:

I have received the letter from your holy hand but I do not agree, under any circumstances in the world, with (your plan) - for we do not tell a person to sin in order to benefit their friend.

(This is) especially so when it involves danger to lives. Enough said.

If you are willing, honourable and holy one, come to me (within) the (next few) days, to Brody, and we will decide on a plan (of action) and whatever (words) G-d places in my mouth I shall guard to speak them.

From your friend who loves you with an eternal love,

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

……..................................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 349:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. Yitzhak of Drohavitch telling him to perform a ‘yichud’ so that the two can ‘meet’ on Yom Kippur:


B”H

Asert Yemei Teshuva 5511.

To the Honourable Rabbi, the Holy Tzadik, before whom all praise is insufficient etc., Mr Yitzchak, n’y, from the holy community of Drohavitch:

I have received your request.

My advice is that on the (forthcoming) holy day (of Yom Hakippurim), before the Neila prayer, perform a Yichud[20].

I too will do (the same) G-d willing.

Then (although we are geographically separated) we shall (nevertheless) see each other.

As is known to you, the time for Neila for me, is the (official) time according to the law (which is) when the sun reaches the treetops.

(May) G-d conclude (His blessing) to us for good, with a seal for good, together with all the House of Israel. Amen. So may it be His will.

From your friend who requests your well-being with love,

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

…........................................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 140:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to the rabbinical court of Brody regarding the declaration of a certain fast day:

B”H

Wednesday (Parshat) Bo 5511 (1751), here in the holy community of Lvov.

To the Holy and Reputable Rabbis who sit on Court of the holy community of Brody, n’y.

After inquiring as to your well being as befitting those who hold honourable positions, I wish to inform you that I have received your honours’ proclamation (regarding the declaration of a fast day).

However, I do not agree with (your ruling) - under any circumstances in the world - (in which you) declared a fast day for the whole of Poland, for this is not what G-d wants.

(Furthermore) it is written that ‘His compassion extends to all His creation’ (and a fast would be too much of a burden on all the people).

I (would) agree that only the holy community of Brody should fast (and) only the males over the age of twenty.

And then certainly G-d, who is good and bestows good to all, will remove His anger from His people, from His city, from His land and from His inheritance - and remember for us His covenant with the early ones (the forefathers) so as to do good for us at all times.

I only declare that every man and woman[21] should give charity to the poor, (to the amount) of 18 coins - and in the merit of (this) charity shall G-d help (for us to benefit from) all good, for us together with all our brothers in the House of Israel. Amen. Netzach, Sela va’ed.

From your beloved who requests your well-being and bestows (blessings) upon all of Israel,


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

…................................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 226:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to his son concerning apportioning money:


B”H

Erev Shabbat Kodesh (Parshat) Bo 5511 (1751). Brody.

To my dear son, the joy of my heart, Mr Tzvi, may you live:

Receive by means of the messenger, n’y, the amount of 20 Ruble Teller.

Give them to your mother, may she live, in order for her to pay her debts.

And I shall return to my home, G-d willing, for Shabat Shira.

(From) your father who loves you,

Yisrael Baal Shem from Medzebuzh.

……...................................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 23:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. Yitzhak of Drohavitch agreeing that the latter should move to Ostroa[22]:


B”H

Tuesday (Parshat) Beha’alotecha 5511 (1751) Brody.

To the Holy and Awesome Rabbi, Tzadik of the generation etc., our teacher the rabbi, Yitzchak n’y, of Drohavitch, may the Rock and Redeemer protect you:

I received the letter from your pure hand and I agree that you should change your (dwelling) place, for a good omen, (and move) to the holy community of Ostroa.

However, know that there (in Ostroa) you will have to be careful in the ways of G-d (as the town is) like a double-edged sword. Enough said.

From your teacher and rabbi who blesses you with a yearning soul ‘beini’[23]. Amen veAmen.

Yisrael Baal Shem Tov from Telust.

……...............................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 182:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. Noach of Sudilkov advising him on how to divide up his estate:


B”H

Thursday (Parshat) Va’etchanan 5511 (1751) Medzebuzh.

To the Officer, Philanthropist, Torah personality, G-d fearing etc., Mr Noach, from the holy community of Sudilkov.

I received your letter and in my opinion, this is how you should divide your estate after your length of days and years.

The mill should be left to your sons who should all be partners (in the enterprise).

Your stone house should be left to (the community) to build a synagogue.

If the good people of the city so desire and if the cash money is (sufficient), the amount of 300
Rubles (Ch[24]) (shall go to) the Talmud Torah.

And 300 Rubles (Ch) to the Chevrah Kadisha.

And 400 Rubles (Ch) to (be set aside for) the redemption of captives.

This way your deed of charity shall be complete.

Long life and all the best. Amen. So may it be His will.

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

…........................................................................................................................................................


DOCUMENT 354:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to the heads of the community requesting an increase in the wages of R. Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye:



B”H

Sunday (Parshat) Eikev Asher Tishma’un. 5511 Medzebuzh.

To all the Heads of the Community, the Leaders and Philanthropists, Officers and Chassidim, the (G-d) fearing and wholesome (people).
Shalom and kol tuv selah:

My honest advice is that you increase the wages of my dear student who is like a son (to me), namely the Rabbi and holy Gaon, the Officer of the Torah etc., Mr Yaakov Yosef haCohen, n’y, by the amount of 2 Adumim per month.

And if you will listen to me, (may) G-d remember you all with individual salvation, each according to his desires for good, both physicality and spirituality. Amen. So may it be His will.

From the one who loves you in truth and requests your wellbeing all the time (lit. all the days).

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

….....................................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 36:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to his scribe R. Tzvi, requesting he come and write some ‘holy matters’:


B”H

Wednesday (Parshat) Vayeshev 5512 (1752) Medzebuzh.

To the Scribe, the Rabbi and Chassid Mr Tzvi, n’y.

Come here because it's necessary to write holy matters which only you can write[25].

From your teacher,

Yisrael Baal Shem.

……................................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 306:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to the Head of the Court, R. Chaim Rappaport, requesting a meeting face to face:


B”H

Wednesday (Parshat) Beha’alotecha 5512 (1752) Lvov.

To the beloved of my soul, the holy Rabbi and Gaon, Example to this Generation and its Glory, expert at the revealed and hidden (Tradition) etc., whose name is holy, Mr Chaim HaCohen, n’y, from the Rappaport family, Head of the Holy Court from the above-mentioned (city of Lvov):

After inquiring after your good health, (I wish to inform you that) I intentionally came here (to Lvov) in order to see (meet with) you face each to face, and to plan a good solution for a very important matter which involves a sanctification of (G-d’s) Name - (however) I did not find you at your house.

Therefore I send you this (my) letter, by means of a special messenger, that you should come (to me) immediately. G-d willing.

From your friend who requests your wellbeing with love,

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

…..................................................................................................................................................

Peh Daled:

Letter from R. Yechiel Askenazi to his father-in-law the Baal Shem Tov requesting his personal intervention in preventing a member of his (the Baal Shem Tov’s) family from leaving the fold:




With help from G-d, blessed be He.

Wednesday (Parshat) Balak in the year 5512 (1752) here (in) Slavia.

I bend my knees and bow my face in greeting you, holy and honourable one, Mr - my father-in-law, our Master, teacher and rabbi, Head of all the Children of the Exile, who rules above and below, before whom all praise is insufficient, etc. etc. - Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, may you live until the coming of Yinon[26]:

After enquiring after your good health (I wish to inform you that) I obeyed your instructions and handed over everything, both in writing and orally (to a particular assimilated family member).

However, he (an unnamed individual) is adamant that he will not repent and he remains steadfast in his rebellion. G-d forbid.

Therefore, my honest advice is that if you, honourable sir, my holy father-in-law, n’y, want to have compassion for the child of Abba Mari (I.e. Your own family member), so that the lineage is not spoilt, Heaven forefend - then come, honourable and holy one, n’y, yourself in your splendour (and meet with him, yourself).

This way, certainly you will save him from falling into the pit (of destruction) G-d forbid, for I understood from him that he, G-d forbid, wants to leave his faith. G-d forbid.

I hereby await your arrival in peace.

From your son-in-law who is writing in fear and perspiration,

The insignificant Yechiel[27], your son-in-law by marriage.

…..................................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 314:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. David Firkes inviting him to come and discuss the possibility of travelling to Eretz Yisrael:


B”H

Thursday (Parshat) Devarim 5512 (1752) Ladmir.

To the honourable and holy Rabbi and Gaon, Beloved to G-d and Beloved to my Soul etc., our teacher the rabbi, Rabbi David Firkes, n’y:

My soul is expiring (with the desire to be at the) courtyard of G-d (the Holy Land), but Heaven is preventing me from ascending (there).

Come also (together with the others who are joining us), holy and honourable one, this holy Shabbat (Prashant) Nachamu, to my home, and we will discuss a plan, as to what to do – whether (or not) to go up (to the Holy Land), may it be rebuilt and re-established speedily and in our days.

The elite from the entire holy group will be (there).

From your leader,

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

…..................................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 28:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye asking him to interpret a dream:


B”H

Medzebuzh. Sunday(Parshat) 5513 (1753).

To my dear student who is like a son to me, the holy Rabbi and Gaon etc. Mr Yaakov Yosef, n’y:

As soon as you receive this letter, come to me to interpret (my) dream, for you are of the seed of (our forefather) Yosef who knows how to interpret dreams. And you are of the seed of Aharon (the High Priest, making you a Cohen).

And you will interpret it for good, for my soul troubles me. Enough said. And salvation is to G-d, blessed be He.

From your teacher and rabbi who loves you like a father,

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

….................................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 233:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to his scribe R. Tzvi Hirsch asking him to copy an amulet:


B”H

Thursday (Parshat) Vayeshev 5513 (1753). Ostila.

To the Scribe, the Holy Rabbi etc., our Teacher Rabbi, Tzvi Hirsh, n’y.

Go immediately to my daughter, may she live, and receive from her the keys (for my wooden chest).

And take from my wooden chest, the book razi[28] (which includes) the manuscript on parchment.

And there on a certain page is a kamiya (amulet) for the birthing of stillborn, Heaven forefend.

Write (copy) the kamiya and send it to me immediately.

From your rabbi,

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

Return the keys to her (when you are finished).

……….........................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 172:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye fulfilling his promise to reveal to his student as to when he began his secret studies under Achiya haShiloni:


B”H

Tuesday (Parshat) Miketz 5513 (1753). Medzebuzh.

To the Honorable[29]….the holy Rabbi and Chasid, Gaon and Tzadik, who is attached to the walls of my heart like a son so dear to me, Mr Yaakov Yosef haCohen, n’y, in the holy community of Polnoye:

After inquiring after your good health, (I inform you that) I have received the writings of your pure hand and I was glad[30]….. to reveal to you on which day and in which year my teacher Achiya haShiloni revealed himself to me.

Now the time has arrived to reveal (those details):

When I was twenty-five years old, on the 18th of Ellul in the year 5484 (1724) in the city of Acop, at midnight, he revealed himself to me.

However, I did not have permission (to reveal this to anyone).

The first lesson (he taught me) was the Parsha of Bereshit. And when we (eventually) concluded the (entire) holy Torah (which ends with the words) “the eyes of all Israel”, I was thirty-six years old - and (then) I revealed myself (to the world).

From your teacher and rabbi and friend who requests your well-being,

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

…..................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 279:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. Dov Ber of Medzeritch telling him to delay the departure of the rabbis from Polnoye till he arrives:


B”H

Sunday (Parshat) Vayechi 5513 (1753) Medzebuzh.

To my student, the Holy Rabbi, Man of G-d, famous Gaon, Officer of the Torah etc., our teacher the rabbi, Rabbi Dovber, may you live - who is currently domiciled in the holy community of Medzebuzh.

I will be further delayed over Shabbat Kodesh in the city of Lublin due to the fair - but I shall come (back to Medzebuzh) immediately after Shabbat Kodesh.

Hold back the holy rabbis from Polnoye until I come, because they are very important to me.

From your teacher and true friend of your soul,

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

…….............................................................................................................................................

DOCUMENT 144:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to the members of his Brotherhood requesting financial assistance for the poor, due to a famine:


B”H

Thursday (Parshat) Shem other 5513 (1753).

To all of the members of our Brotherhood, the holy Chassidim and Rabbis, from the best of the group (of Chassidim) may G-d be with you, may you live.

The words (of this letter) will be for a sign (as delivered) by my (son) in-law, the holy Rabbi and Chassid, our teacher the rabbi Yechiel, n"y, whom I have commissioned to collect money for the sustenance of the poor, as there is, Heaven forefend, a great famine in our surrounding (areas).

And in the merit of this (fundraising) may G-d open His good storehouse and sustain us to the point of saturation, amongst all children of the house of Israel.

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

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[1] A term referring to a scholar who is compared to Mount Sinai.
[2] A term referring to the sharpness of mind.
[3] It may be Mar or Mr (the vav may be an error and could have been a reish) - or possibly Moreinu or Teacher.
[4] R. Zev Kitzes  (1685-1788) was born 15 years before the Baal Shem Tov and outlived him by 28 years. He lived in Tulchin and headed a group of Chassidim which pre-dated the Chassidim of the Baal Shem Tov. Initially, he opposed the Baal Shem Tov but later became his student. He also acted as the Baal Tokeah his teacher. He is buried in Medzebuzh next to the Baal Shem Tov.
[5] A calendar designation.
[6] Preacher.
[7] Yz”v is an abbreviation for yishmereihu tzuro vyichyu which means may his Rock protect him and give him life.
[8] This is a fascinating example of the student disagreeing with the master. We tend to think that, certainly within Chassidic circles, the master’s word is always final.
[9] Yinom is another name for Messiah.
[10] This is a fascinating letter as it shows a certain vulnerability to the Baal Shem Tov, who surprisingly, looks to his brother-in-law for guidance and direction in such an important matter concerning his questionable ability to perform the resurrection of the dead.
What's also interesting is the date of this letter - 1749 - when the Baal Shem Tov would have been 49 years old. This indicates that his apparent ability to perform such supernatural feats only manifested around the final decade of his life. 
[11] This is a support for the notion that the expression: ‘We will discuss sweet secrets’ is a reference to the secret writings of Adam Baal Shem Tov who is referenced here as ‘whose soul is in Eden’ - as opposed to his other (spiritual and mystical teacher personality) Achiya haShiloni, who is said to have been a prophet from the times of King Solomon. Once again the nature of the secret writings is subject to much speculation.
[12] Not to be confused with his brother-in-law, R. Gershon of Kitov.
[13] Mchu”t is most likely an abbreviation for mechutani which means my in-law.
[14] If the date of this letter written in 1749 is correct, it raises questions because we know that by that time the Baal Shem Tov was well acquainted with R. Dovber, the Maggid of Mezeritch. 
[15] Hidden righteous men.
[16] I am unsure as to the meaning of this abbreviation, Ru”ch. Perhaps it stands for Ruble Chadash.
[17] This is a reference to the well-known ascension of the soul of the Baal Shem Tov, as recorded in Keter Shem Tov, where he met Mashiach and was told he would only come when the wellsprings of mystical teachings had spread to the outside world. 
[18] Hidden righteous individual.
[19] The assumption is that the gift was meant for the Nistar who was no longer in town, as therefore the gift was returned to the Baal Shem Tov.
[20] A mystical ceremony.
[21] The abbreviation Av”a could stand for either, ish ve’ish (man and man), or ish ve’isha (man and woman).
[22] Ostroh or Ostrog is a historic city in Western Ukraine.
[23] I am unsure of the meaning of this word.
[24] Chadash?
[25] We do know that the Baal Shem Tov’s scribe, R. Tzvi Hirsch was commissioned by his rabbi to write a copy of Sefer haTzoref. It is possible that this letter may have been the actual letter of its commission.
[26] Another name for Messiah.
[27] This is R Yechiel Ashkenazi who married the Baal Shem Tov’s daughter, Adel. They had three children: Their first son was R. Moshe Chaim Efraim, author of Degel Machaneh Efraim.
Their second son was R. Baruch of Medzebuzh whose teachings appear in an anthology Butzina Dinehura.
Their third child was Feiga who went on to marry R. Simcha, who was to give birth to R. Nachman of Breslov.
[28] Or secret book.
[29] I do not know what the abbreviation Av”n stands for.
[30] I do not know what ce’al means.