Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Maggid of Mezeritch

It is often noted by commentators on the Torah that whereas Abraham was a charismatic leader, his son, Isaac, was an introvert who spent much of his time studying. This same comparison could be made between the founder of the Chassidic movement, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (aka the Besht), and his successor, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch (c. 1704-1772).

The first time the Maggid of Mezeritch, as he came to be known, met the Besht, he nearly walked away. Having lived his life in poverty, the Maggid had many health problems and it was suggested that he visit the Besht, who was known as a healer. Although the Maggid was not a follower of the new Chassidic way of thinking, he went for Shabbat. During Shabbat, he was completely unimpressed with the divrei Torah (Torah statements) that the Besht offered. As he prepared to leave after Shabbat, the Besht called him in and privately revealed the very deep spiritual meaning of his earlier statements. Needless to say, the Maggid stayed.

Not long after the Besht’s passing, the Maggid became recognized as the leader of the growing Chassidic movement. Because he was disabled in one foot, he did not travel and his disciples gathered around him. His closest students were sequestered with him during the week, but on Shabbat he made himself available to all. Although he himself never published his Torah thoughts, his teachings were preserved in writing by his disciples and later published.

Perhaps the Maggid’s greatest contribution to the future of Chassidut was his dispersion of his students. As he approached his last days, he told each of his main disciples, based on each individual’s personality, where to settle to be the most effective. These students came to lead their own Chassidic courts and to advance the revolutionary development of the Chassidic movement that the Besht had begun.

The 19th of Kislev, today, is the yahrtzeit of the Maggid of Mezeritch.

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