Tag Archives: Chasidic

Reviewing the Meaning of Midrash: Part 5

We’ve explained why midrash and aggadah are so vital to our Torah diet. We’ve explained that these stories speak to us from a higher plane of reality. And we’ve also demonstrated that even if you don’t get it, you still do get it—meaning that you’ve still got truth even if you’re clueless to the meaning inside.

We’ve also provided some guidelines to determine whether a story is an anecdote or a parable. Now, let’s take a test case. Let’s look at a story of the Talmud and see what’s meant literally, what’s meant to point to something deeper, and how it could be true for everyone on their level.

-Tzvi Freeman and Yehuda Shurpin
Death by Secrets
Part 5 of “Is Midrash For Real?”
Chabad.org

That’s a really nice summary of the past four articles compressed into just a couple of paragraphs. Now’s the test. Run an actual story through the matrix and see if it makes sense. This last commentary by R. Freeman and R. Shurpin is quite a bit shorter than their previous missives. I could probably copy and paste the whole thing here and then comment on it, but I don’t think I’ll do that. You have the link above to see all of the contents.

So what’s the story they want to test?

Rabbah taught, “A man is obligated to get drunk on Purim until he cannot distinguish between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai.’”

Rabbah and Rabbi Zeira held their Purim feast together. They became drunk. Rabbah got up and slaughtered Rabbi Zeira. The next day, Rabbah pleaded for divine mercy, and brought Rabbi Zeira back to life. A year passed, and Rabbah said to Rabbi Zeira, “Come, let us hold the Purim feast together!” Rabbi Zeira replied, “Miracles don’t happen every day.”

I’ve heard this one before. This story circulates every Purim (and as I write this, it is still before Purim). The commentary from Chabad tells us something useful right away.

In this case, I guarantee this is not meant to be taken at face value.

In other words, even if these two esteemed Ravs got drunk on Purim, it wasn’t to the degree that Rabbah murdered and then resurrected Rabbi Zeira. But then what does it mean and more importantly, how does this story ”speak to us from a higher plane of reality?”

Here’s where the title “Death by Secrets” comes in.

What we appear to be dealing with in this case is a real-life anecdote told in figurative terms. Rabbah and Rabbi Zeira were drunk, but not from the wine; and Rabbah slaughtered Rabbi Zeira, but not with a slaughtering knife. Everything was good, very good—to the point that Rabbah was ready to go it again. Just not something that us amateurs should attempt without clinical supervision.

Leon ZernitzkyWhat? OK, I was fine with ”a real-life anecdote told in figurative terms,” but what does it mean that Rabbi Zeira was “slaughtered but not with a knife” and “everything was very good and Rabbah was ready to go again?” Go at what?

”When wine enters,” the Talmud tells us, “secrets come out.” Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, in his classic Shnei Luchot ha-Brit, describes how great sages and holy men would consume much wine and celebrate—and the channels of their mind would open so that the deepest secrets of the Torah would flow out of their mouths.

Interrupting the narrative for a moment. Sounds like something Carlos Castaneda was trying to do; apprehend Yaqui Indian sorcery through the use of mind-altering drugs. But to continue…

He cites stories of the Talmud to this effect. Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar, in his commentary to the Torah, Ohr ha-Chaim, describes how it was these secrets that emerged through the drinking of wine that carried Nadav and Avihu, the two sons of Aaron, to death as their souls departed from their bodies in ecstatic divine love.

Now, Rabbah was able to imbibe these secrets and remain alive, as his name implies: rab means “great.” But Rabbi Zeira could not contain such intense light: ze’ir means “small.” So Rabbah’s sharing of mystical secrets created such a great thirst for divine union in Rabbi Zeira’s soul that it departed, and his body was left dead.  The next day is no longer Purim—no longer a day for escaping all bounds and limitations, but a day for fulfilling your purpose down here on earth inside a physical body—so Rabbah dutifully resurrects his colleague.

The next year, Rabbah had no regrets, and was ready to perform the same clinical procedure on Rabbi Zeira once again—take him for a ride up to heaven and back again the next morning. Or perhaps he figured Rabbi Zeira had enough time to also attain a higher level, and would be able to hang in there.

So we aren’t to believe that Rabbah literally murdered Rabbi Zeira but we are expected to believe that under the influence of alcohol, Rabbah’s “secrets” were spilled out, and he took Rabbi Zeira on an unexpected ride to heaven and then back to earth the next day.

Uh-huh.

Rabbi Zeira decided he didn’t want a second trip to heaven the following year, not because it would drive him to the point of insanity and even kill him, but because of his great humility.

Uh-huh.

But then Freeman and Shurpin give a more down-to-earth answer:

Whatever the case, the lesson remains the same: Don’t get carried away with your wine, no matter its substance. Keep your feet on the ground. If you know you’re the type to be easily carried away when drinking, avoid it altogether.

Purim in JerusalemSo it all depends on what kind of person you become when you get drunk. That’s the moral of the story and it seems to be the most useful lesson being taught, especially when imbibing at a celebration where others are present.

To be honest, I’m a little disappointed. That’s quite a build up to a conclusion that seems so pedestrian. I mentioned in last week’s review that based on Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi, it’s not the more believable story that’s “real” but the most interesting tale.

Here we have three selections:

  1. The literal meaning: Rabbah and Rabbi Zeira got drunk on Purim to the degree that Rabbah murdered Rabbi Zeira and, when he sobered up the next day, begged for divine mercy and resurrected Rabbi Zeira. The next year, Rabbi Zeira turned down Rabbah’s invitation to celebrate again because he couldn’t count on a second miracle should he die again.
  2. The higher or mystic meaning: Rabbah and Rabbi Zeira got drunk on Purim, and Rabbah’s mystic secrets poured forth to the degree that he escorted Rabbi Zeira on an “unscheduled” trip to the heavenly realms (which rendered such ecstatic joy it killed him) and returned him to earth the next day (bringing him back to life). The following year, Rabbi Zeira turned down Rabbah’s invitation to a second trip because of his great humility.
  3. The underlying truth: Rabbah and Rabbi Zeira probably did get drunk together on one Purim but because of his host’s behavior or perhaps his own (some people are less pleasant or controlled when drunk), Rabbi Zeira declined a subsequent invitation, being concerned about a repeat of previous events.

The moral of all three stories is, if you know you get too excited or carried away while drunk, avoid social situations that require alcohol consumption.

As far as which story you want to apply to the moral, I guess it depends on which one you find the most interesting or, if “interesting” isn’t what you want from your morality tales, which one seems the most plausible.

What Did I Learn?

I learned what I already knew, to take mystic and midrashic tales with a grain of salt. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good metaphor and a fantastic saga. I believe they can contain great truths about the reality of our lives. I just don’t think that contained within these stories are a higher mystic reality and must be objectively real. I don’t believe Rabbi killed Rabbi Zeirg with a knife because they were exceedingly drunk and then resurrected him the next day. Nor do I believe that under the influence of wine, the two of them took a trip to heaven in massive, mind-blowing joy and then returns the next day, anymore than I believe that any of Carlos Castenada’s adventures under the influence of hallucinogens were anymore than what a person experiences in a chemically induced, mind-altering state.

Hasidic New WaveI’m sorry, I just don’t. I believe that, however these tales came about, they result in lessons of ethical and moral behavior that are designed to illuminate the communities in which the revered Talmudic sages resided. I wish I could say they were more than that. I really do like reading them and I do learn from each one. I guess I make a pretty lousy Jewish mystic. However, if you’re interested in reading more examples of Chasidic Tales, go to the Chabad webpage Stories from the Midrash.

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A Few Thoughts on a General Soul

Hasidism teaches that while not all are able to attain the highest levels of elevated spirituality, the masses can attach themselves to the Tzadik, or truly righteous one, (in Hebrew: התקשרות לצדיקים) whereby even those of lesser achievement will reap the same spiritual and material benefits. By being in the Tzadik’s presence one could achieve dveikut through that of the Tzadik. The Tzadik also serves as the intercessor between those attached to him and God, and acts as the channel through which Divine bounty is passed. To the early Rabbinic opponents of Hasidism, its distinctive doctrine of the Tzadik appeared to place an intermediary before Judaism’s direct connection with God. They saw the Hasidic enthusiasm of telling semi-prophetic or miraculous stories of its leaders as excessive. In Hasidic thought, based on earlier Kabbalistic ideas of collective souls, the Tzaddik is a general soul in which the followers are included. The Tzaddik is described as an “Intermidiary who connects” with God, rather than the heretical notion of an “Intermidiary who separates”. To the followers, the Tzaddik is not an object of prayer, as he attains his level only by being completely bittul (nullified) to God. The Hasidic followers have the custom of handing pidyon requests for blessing to the Tzaddik, or visiting the Ohel graves of earlier leaders.

from the article “Hasidic philosophy”
Wikipedia.org

I can hardly tell you how the above-quoted paragraph seems to describe how I understand the Messiah.

OK, I know that Wikipedia has less than a stellar reputation as a direct resource, but given that Chasidic and Kabbalistic philosophy can be enormously difficult to comprehend (at least to me), I selected what I thought was the most accessible information source. But why am I posting a quote about bonding with a Chasidic tzadik at all? What possible relevance can it have to a Christian, even one who is trying to view his faith through a traditional Jewish lens?

Last week, as I’ve mentioned numerous times, I attended the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) 2012 Shavuot conference at the Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. Among the various teachers and speakers at this event was FFOZ author and staff member Aaron Eby. He said something about the Messiah during one of his presentations that I just had to write down. This probably isn’t word-for-word, but hopefully, it’s close.

Messiah has a general soul and he cannot separate his soul from the soul of Israel.

I’m not sure if the other stuff I have written down on this little piece of paper I’m looking at was said by Aaron or just my interpretation and expansion on what he said, but here it is.

When a Gentile takes hold of the tzitzit of a Jew, he is taking hold of Messiah. He is taking hold of the tzitzit of a Jew and being led to the Temple Mount. Find God in the Jewish people.

I’m obviously referencing Zechariah 8:23 in my notes, but let’s take a look at the verse in it’s context.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” –Zechariah 8:20-23 (ESV)

These events occur in the Messianic age, so thus far, ten men of the nations haven’t taken a hold of the tzitzit of a Jew in the manner described by the prophet. However, we know that this will happen and we know we Christians should get used to the idea that it should happen, and that it is all part of God’s plan for the Jews and for us.

A few weeks ago, I wrote on another meditation something that caused quite a stir:

This is another reason why we Christians, and indeed, the entire world, owes the Jews a debt that can never be repaid. It is their King who will finally come and bring peace for everyone, not just the nation of Israel, but the nations of the earth.

The “push back” I received about those words was that we owe God the Father and Jesus Christ such a debt, not the Jewish people. The idea is that Christians should not glorify a people group but instead, glorify God. As far as that statement goes, I agree wholeheartedly. Our worship and devotion belongs only to the God of Israel. Jesus Christ came and even said that God sent him to the lost sheep of Israel. And we know from the very often quoted John 3:16 and many other scriptures that the scope of the Messianic covenant extends far beyond Israel and indeed, to the entire world.

ShavuotBut what was that thing about a “general soul?”

When Aaron made that statement, I immediately thought of the different ways I tried to explain why we Christians do owe a debt to the Jews. In the best way I knew how, I tried to show that the Messiah as an individual, cannot be separated from his people the Jews. In essense, Messiah is Israel and is their firstborn son. Now I have another way of thinking about Messiah as having a general soul that is inseparably joined to the soul of all his people. But maybe, if we can take a different look at Zechariah 8, the door swings both ways, so to speak. We in church, when we “take hold” of Christ, are also taking hold of Israel and the Jews. But we can also “take hold,” as the prophet said, of a Jew, and by doing so, be joined to Israel and her Messiah.

I want to be very careful here and explain that I’m not talking about substituting Judaism in the place of the Messiah. So many Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish movement have fallen into this trap and abandoned Jesus altogether, choosing instead to convert to a traditional Judaism. This is not what I’m suggesting at all. What I’m saying is that we cannot separate the Messiah from Judaism. Perhaps I’m also saying that we cannot separate Judaism from Messiah. I’m not particularly scholarly in these areas, so I don’t have the means to evaluate the mystical implications of all of this, but if nothing else, I see the Messiah and his general soul as a way for us to continually realize that we cannot say we love Jesus Christ and throw the Jews, Judaism, and national Israel under a bus at the same time.

If we accept Christ as Messiah and Lord, we accept all of him, just as he is and always will be. Totally joined to Israel and to every Jew who has ever existed.

So be careful what you say and how you treat the next Jewish person you meet. You never know if someday it may be his tzitzit you will be clinging to as you cling to the soul of the Messiah.

Since the Divine activating force responsible for the existence of created things must continuously be present within them, they are completely nullified in their source. This means, as the Alter Rebbe explained in the previous chapter, that in reality they do not “exist”.

Why, then, do we nevertheless perceive created beings as enjoying a tangible “existence”? — Only because we are unable to see or comprehend the Divine utterance that is contained within each created thing and that calls it into being.

The Alter Rebbe illustrated this by considering the sun’s rays. When they are not within their source, the sun, but diffused throughout the expanse of the universe, they are perceived as having independent existence. However, when they are contained within the sun-globe they clearly have no such “existence” at all.

From “Today’s Tanya Lesson” (Listen online)
Shaar Hayichud Vehaemunah, beginning of Chapter 4
Sivan 12, 5772 · June 2, 2012
Chabad.org

Noach: What We Allow in Heaven

Noah's ArkThe Maggid of Mezritch interpreted our Sages’ statement: “Know what is above you,” as: “Know that everything ‘above’ all that transpires in the spiritual realms is ‘from you,’ dependent on your conduct. Each of us has the potential to influence even the most elevated spiritual realms.”

The Torah alludes to this potential in the opening verse of our reading: “These are the chronicles of Noach. Noach was a righteous man.” The word noach refers to satisfaction and repose. By repeating the word, the Torah implies that Noach and by extension, every one of his descendants can sow these qualities in two different fields, both among his fellow men, and in the spiritual worlds above.

Every person affects his environment. Our thoughts, words and deeds can inspire peace and tranquility in our fellow men, helping create meaningful pleasure. And by establishing such conditions in our world, we accentuate similar qualities in the worlds above. To highlight our obligation to spread these virtues, this week’s Torah portion is called Noach.

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Genuine Satisfaction: Noach’s Legacy”
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XX, p. 285ff;
Vol. XXV, p. 23ff
Chabad.org

This is the line of Noah. — Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God.Genesis 6:9 (JPS Tanakh)

It’s difficult and sometimes even a little dangerous to go beyond the plain meaning of what we read in the Bible and enter hidden or even mystic interpretations. First off, even though Christianity also has its mystic tradition, looking at the Bible through a Chassidic lens can tend to be disorienting, and most people will immediately reject the view rather than attempt to explore the value that might be gained from a radical change in perspective. And yet, this is what “jumped out at me” when studying the Torah Portion Noah (some Jewish sources spell the name “Noach”) this week.

Yesterday, I posted two “meditations” on this blog about how we can have an influence on others. Both messages were, for the most part, grounded in traditional methods of doing good and improving the world, but a Chasid believes that anything that is done on earth is reflected in Heaven. To punctuate this, I previously quoted Rabbi Tzvi Freeman as saying:

For all that is, physical or spiritual or Divine, was only created to be part of the repair of this world of action. And once that repair is done, all that will be true are those things that made it happen.

Even the Master said:

“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. –Matthew 18:18

But what does this mean and what does it have to do, not only with Noah, but with us?

One rather awesome conclusion, as stated above, is that what we do here doesn’t just matter here or to the people around us, but it actually has effects beyond the physical realm.

It has been noted by our Sages that “Torah preceded the world,” i.e., although Torah as studied in this physical world is to be understood in its plain context, it preceded the world. For every letter of Torah also possesses inner and esoteric meaning. Such meaning emanates from the study of Torah in the higher spiritual realms – worlds that transcend physicality.

Understandably, this applies not only to the Torah’s commandments, but to its stories; although all the stories recounted actually transpired in all their detail, still, since Torah preceded the world, we must perforce say that these tales also contain meanings found in the higher, spiritual worlds.

This gives rise to the following inescapable conclusion: Since “No evil sojourns with You,” we must say that even though the Torah contains things that in their simple context seem undesirable – such as misdeeds, punishments, and the like – in the world above, where it is impossible for evil to reside, these selfsame events are understood as being entirely desirable, holy and good.

The Chassidic Dimension: Noach
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson and
Likkutei Sichos , Noach 5747
Chabad.org

noah-rainbowThat probably doesn’t clear things up much, but consider this. For any event that you read about in the Torah, there is a corresponding event or meaning that has occurred in Heaven. There’s a mysterious, mystic, connection between the ordinary document that we study and what God used to create the universe. Extending the metaphor, we might be able to say that whenever we obey one of the Torah mitzvah, there is an impact, not only on earth, but in Heaven. Jesus said as much in Matthew 18.

Going back to this week’s Torah portion, we can apply this metaphor to say that the names, words, and events depicted in this reading is not just a report of what happened to Noah and his family and to the earth during and after the flood, but that there are much larger ramifications. Those ramifications are particularly meaningful to those people who aren’t Jewish. Remember, Rabbi Tauber said that all of Noah’s descendents can affect both the world of men and the spiritual realms. We are all Noah’s descendents.

God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fertile and increase, and fill the earth. The fear and the dread of you shall be upon all the beasts of the earth and upon all the birds of the sky — everything with which the earth is astir — and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hand. Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these. You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it. But for your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast; of man, too, will I require a reckoning for human life, of every man for that of his fellow man!

Whoever sheds the blood of man,
By man shall his blood be shed;
For in His image
Did God make man.

Be fertile, then, and increase; abound on the earth and increase on it.”

And God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “I now establish My covenant with you and your offspring to come, and with every living thing that is with you — birds, cattle, and every wild beast as well — all that have come out of the ark, every living thing on earth. I will maintain My covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” –Genesis 9:1-11

The covenant God made with Noah and his sons is the basis for what Judaism calls The Seven Noahide Laws. While Judaism doesn’t consider the full 613 Commandments of the Torah to be binding on a non-Jew, the Noahide Laws are applicable to everyone. In Judaism, any non-Jew who lives a life as a Noahide merits a place in the world to come (in “Christianese” that would mean he’s “saved”).

This doesn’t make much sense to a Christian because we believe that there is only one way to the Father and that’s through the Son (John 14:6). In traditional Christianity, it doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish or not Jewish, you must come to faith in the Messiah to be fully reconciled with God. How the Messianic covenant addresses the Mosaic I’ll address another time, but did the Messianic covenant wipe out the Noahide covenant completely?

In the days of Noah and for ten generations afterward, there was only one people, one language, and one standard by which a man could have a covenant with God. It was the standard God gave to Noah. At the tenth generation, this people united to build an affront to God at Babel and we are told that God “confused their languages” and made the seventy nations (Genesis 11:1-9). At the end of this reading, we see Abram enter the narrative for the first time, but even after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, what was the standard of righteous living for all of mankind until the coming of Jesus?

We can look at the story of Noah and see the story of mankind’s influence, not only upon the world around us but, according to mystic interpretation, the world above. When man defied God and built a tower, God could have ignored them. After all, it wasn’t as if building a structure, no matter how high, really could have reached Heaven, could it? But if not, then why did God react and do what He did?

the-towerNo, I don’t believe you can make a tower to reach up to Heaven, but I do believe that somehow, what we do on earth, for good or for bad, does affect Heaven and it does affect God. Certainly we can’t do anything to adversely affect God but we also have a unique relationship with our Creator that no other creature has, not even the angelic beings. We are special. We matter personally to God. Our actions are not our own and they are not limited to the “nuts and bolts” of life in our own little world.

If even the name “Noach” has meaning, if the stories in the Torah somehow reach beyond the words on a page and resonate in Heaven itself, if what we loose on earth is loosed in God’s realm, then the story of Noah teaches us that we dare not be careless with what we say and do. Noah’s planting a vineyard, making wine, and becoming intoxicated resulted in a permanent curse on Ham, but we don’t know why. The descendents of Noah built a great tower to symbolize their invincibility over God, defying God as man did in Eden, and defying God as the generation before the flood, and God reacted by confusing their language and splitting the one people into the seventy nations of the earth, and we don’t really know why. We say and do things in our lives, sometimes in the service of God and sometimes in the service of ourselves, and yet they have an impact in the Heavenly courts, and we don’t know how or why.

But if what we do matters that much, or even if it just might be possible that it matters that much, do we dare say a careless word or perform a careless act? Are not only our lives, but each thing we say or do that important to God? What are we loosing on earth…and in heaven?

Good Shabbos.

The Messianic Tale

The Ba'al Shem TovThe third goal of the hasidic story was to rouse its hearers into action for the service of God. Several compilers of hasidic stories quoted the dictum by R. Elimelekh that ‘it is an auspicious sign for a person if, when he hears what is related regarding the virtues of the tsadikim and their faithful holy service of the Lord, may he be blessed, his heart beats at that time with the desire and very great fervour that he also merit faithfully to serve the Lord, may he be blessed; this is a good sign that the Lord is with him.’

from The Hasidic Tale
by Gedaliah Nigal

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”Luke 24:28-32

Gedaliah Nigal relates to his audience the importance to the Chasidim of storytelling  about tzadikim (righteous ones), Chasidim (devoted disciples), and the deep and multi-layered influence these tales can have. As you’ve already seen, one of the purposes of Chasidic storytelling is to inspire the listeners to perform acts of righteousness and devotion for the sake of God. We also see in Luke’s Gospel, that the words of the risen Messiah did the same thing. That brings us to an interesting question: is one of the main purposes of the Bible to tell stories that inspire the reader?

I’m not really asking if the Bible is inspirational. I think most believers would say “yes”. What I’m asking is whether or not the Bible is a collection of stories designed to inspire its readers?

I’ve just implied that not everything in the Bible is literally true, a contention supported by many leading New Testament (NT) scholars, not the least of which is Bart D. Ehrman. You might be tempted to dismiss Ehrman based on the fact that he is a self-declared agnostic (though a former Christian), but other scholarly New Testament books address the question of how literally we can take the Bible, including whether or not the New Testament defines Jesus as God (see Maurice Casey’s From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God and Larry Hurtado’s How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God as examples).

If you believe that the Bible is 100% literally true and should be read as a history, I’ve no doubt just shocked you by suggesting otherwise, yet modern NT scholars readily confirm that the Bible is less a history book and more a set of stories (based on eyewitness accounts, at least to some degree) about the teachings of the Jewish Messiah and what they mean to the nations of the world in terms of access to God, forgiveness of sins, and a life beyond the one we know. The New Testament speaks to the Jewish people but it also speaks to the non-Jewish nations about the God of Israel and the Son of God, Jesus, the Messiah who brought the Good News of the Most High to all of mankind. These “stories” represent as much the perspectives and character of the  NT authors (who may not always be the people we attribute these stories to) as well as the nature of character of the Messiah.

That brings us to another purpose of these “stories”:

The very power of the hasidic tale wins adherents to hasidism. Many people, among them some outstanding individuals, have been drawn to hasidism by its stories. R. Menahem Mendel of Kotsk, one of the leading hasidic tsadikim, said of himself that ‘he was made a hasid by an old man who told stories about the holy tasdikim’. The Ba’al Shem Tov excelled in his ability to attract new followers by this means.

Teaching of the TzadikimWhile Nigal is speaking of Jews who turn toward the teachings of Chasidic Judaism, I will admit to being attracted, as a Gentile, to these teachings when I read some of the tales of the Chasidim. It’s difficult to disregard the wisdom and compassion of the inspirational stories about the Chasidic tzadikim, but it doesn’t stop there. This, I think, is also what is so attractive about the tales of the “tzadik” Jesus. In fact, there is one Chasid who, after thoroughly investigating the Gospels, found the “stories” of John especially to be reminiscent of the tales of the Chasidim and as a result, became a lifelong disciple of the “Maggid of Nazeret”.

He read the Gospels in German. Then he obtained a Hebrew version and reread them. Though he was in the midst of a Gentile, Christian city where Jesus was worshiped in churches and honored in every home, Feivel felt the Gospels belonged more to him and the Chasidic world than they did to the Gentiles who revered them. He found the Gospels to be thoroughly Jewish and conceptually similar to Chasidic Judaism. He wondered how Gentile Christians could hope to comprehend Yeshua (Jesus) and His words without the benefit of a classical Jewish education or experience with the esoteric works of the Chasidim.

Taken from Jorge Quinonez:
“Paul Philip Levertoff: Pioneering Hebrew-Christian Scholar and Leader”
Mishkan 37 (2002): 21-34
as quoted from Love and the Messianic Age

If a young Chasid named Feivel Levertoff (he later changed his name to “Paul Philip”) could discover the Messiah in Jesus in the late 19th century because John’s Gospel was so much like the powerful and mystic writings on which he was raised, is it so difficult to imagine that a passionate exploration of Jesus might lead a Christian to discover an extension of his faith in Chasidic tales?

What are you looking for? Wealth? Prestige? Position? You have all these right now. You should be altogether happy. And yet you are miserable – I can feel it for all your brave speech. Can you not be satisfied? And this way of living that fills you with restlessness and discontent – I am not a Jew but even I have sensed something lovely in Judaism, in its faith and in its morality with its emphasis on pity. Even its rituals are not without poetic grace. See how many Gentiles have been converted to your religion. Does that not prove that it possesses virtues which the Greek world lacks? These are at your disposal now. What more do you want?

-Nicholaus to Elisha in the novel:
As a Driven Leaf
by Milton Steinberg

In the days prior to and even after Christ’s earthly existence, it was somewhat common for non-Jews to see the beauty and wisdom in the teachings of the God of Israel, so in those days, many Gentiles converted to Judaism as the only means by which they could live a life of righteousness (though through the revelation of Christ, all people may be reconciled to God). While Christianity begins with Judaism as its root, two millennium of separation between Judaism and Christianity have made them two almost completely unrelated faiths, with only the spectre of a connection between them (most Jews would say that the term “Judeo-Christian” is a misnomer). However, if Christianity truly accepts that we follow the Jewish Messiah, who first came for the lost sheep of Israel and only afterwards for the nations, who never abandoned his people, and as the Apostle Paul taught, all of Israel will one day all be saved (Romans 11:26), then we cannot be so arrogant as to brush aside the natural branch just because we, the wild and alien olive shoot, have been grafted into the root (Romans 11:17).

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of Hillel, Shammai, and the Three Converts as related in the Ethics of the Fathers (Avot Pirkei). I won’t recount the entire story (you can click on the link I just provided and read it for yourself), but it does illustrate the drive and passion among some of the Gentiles to truly understand what it is to be a Jew and to have that special covenant relationship with God. While Hillel and Shammai died perhaps only within a few years of the birth of Christ, they each established great schools of Jewish learning and their disciples, native Jews and converts, carried on their teachings and traditions for generations and eventually, ensured that their stories would be recorded for all time so that we have them with us even today.

The “Chasidim” of Jesus also made sure the stories of their Master were passed on from generation to generation, eventually being recorded and passed on to the future…to us.

Paul Philip Levertoff thought that the teachings of Jesus read like a collection of Chasdic tales. Perhaps as Gentile Christians reading tales of the Chasidim, we can also find a connection to the Messiah, the Prophet, and the greatest Tzadik, whose own death atoned for not just a few, but for all.