This Shabbat is known as Yud-Tes Kislev - "Rosh Hashanah of Chassidim" because of the yartzeit of Rabbi DovBer, known as "The Maggid of Mezeritch." He was the disciple of, and successor to, the founder of Chassidut, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov. Rabbi DovBer led the Chassidic movement from 1761 until his passing on Kislev 19, 1772.
The Passing of the The Maggid of Mezeritch.
The Chassidim were suffering terribly due to the non-stop persecution of the mitnagdim – i.e. those Jews who opposed the chassidic movement. Jewish infighting has always been a major bane for the Jewish people. It is no better today, although today the Chassidim are generally recognized a legitimate sect of Jewish thought and practice. At the same time some of the Chassidim today act in the same negative and judgmental ways towards of other Jews. Its a sad thing then and now. It was this same sort of foolishness on the part of the allegedly frumer-than-thou Jews that caused the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. The BESHT and his followers were seeking to re-enliven Judaism, to make it more relevant to the Jewish people. The Chassidim were faithful Jews and yet they were terribly rejected and persecuted by their fellows, even as we see happening in some Jewish circles today.
The Great Maggid of Mezeritch kept silent in the face of this rising Jewish infighting. Though filled with empathy for his followers, he thought that it best not to answer nor react to the events taking place all around him. He said: “Truth stands, falsehood does not stand.”
In the face of the mitnagdim attacks the Baal Shem Tov had determined “to forgive fully and absolutely,” as advised at Psalms 104:35, and to, ‘Let sins be annihilated,’ not the sinners.” This is solid Chassidic wisdom. But sometimes a person must stand and fight back! Silence can become weakness and the lack of resistance can be tacit agreement. United States Patriots have now arrived at this point. Stand or surrender.
The persecutions waged by our fellow observant Jews became intolerable. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev received a report vividly describing the personal harassments and sufferings his own family was compelled to endure. His colleagues decided that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak should read out this letter in the presence of the Maggid, but even as he did so, Rabbi DovBer remained silent.
As you know, Halacha and its interpretations cover every sort of remedy but must be applied with wisdom and proper timing. Meeting secretly the talmidim decided that it was their duty as Jews to stand! It seemed there was but one thing they could do: The invoked to the halachic ruling permitting one to meet an illegitimately proclaimed cherem (ban) with a counter-ban. They counter-banned the mitnagdim.
Learning of this action, Rabbi DovBer replied:
Know that by the action you have taken, you have forfeited your head. However, at the same time, you have gained that henceforth, whenever there will be a conflict between the Chassidim and their opponents, the Chassidim will prevail.”
Within half a year they would lose their head, the crown of Chassidism, Rabbi DovBer, the great Maggid of Mezeritch. Rabbi DovBer 's last Shabbat was the 16th of Kislev. On that Shabbat he explained the first verse of that day’s Torah reading (Genesis 32:4), “And Jacob sent malachim.” As we discussed in my D'var Torah this week.
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