My love of learning anything concerning Jewish history brought me this time to a class on early Hasidism. The book I bought for the class was first published in Hebrew in 1814 or 1815 from an earlier manuscript written by Rabbi Dov Ber ben Shmuel. The stories are remarkable on several levels, but what they made me think of, sadly, was the world of Eastern European Jewry, that is talked about with love and reverence in the book – every community of every small town is called “holy” – that virtually disappeared less than 200 years after the Besht’s death. My ancestors come from a Hasidic area of Talnoe (Talne) near Uman. Life for the Jews in those areas was always a battle. Poverty and hatred from the Haidamacs, Cossaks, and later Soviet Ukrainians are legendary. Pogrom after pogrom. Yet, the people of the area very believers, moreover, they saw saintliness in the person that was able to move them away, albeit just spiritually from their troubles, and elevate their souls together with his own to the upper worlds. Those people understood they lived in galut, and some of them, even at that daring time tried to make their way to Eretz Yisrael. Not many succeeded. Most of the descendants of those Hasidim perished in the great evil that befell Europe in the 20 century.
You pray, you chant, you hold you breath,
Oh, holy man you burn with fervor.
Why didn’t you save your people from the evil fire?
Walking the streets of Brooklyn yesterday, during the Shabbat, I couldn’t help but wonder – do we understand that we are, still, in galut? Why are we building these palatial homes that we will, inevitably, have to leave? Did we become too comfortable? Did we forget? Are we waiting for the Moshiach? Are we trying hard to bring him “speedily, in our days“?
You build a home, a big one, no doubt
Thinking of a better life for your children
The house on a foreign land can not stand