Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi is the father of the neo-Hasidic Jewish Renewal movement and one of the foremost authorities on Kabbalah and Hasidism. He is the author of many books including Wrapped in a Holy Flame: Teachings and Tales of the Hasidic Masters (2003). Netanel Miles-Yepez is a scholar of comparative religion and a spiritual counselor. This substantive volume sheds light on the formidable teachings of the first three generations of Hasidism — the Ba'al Shem Tov, his heirs, and the students of his successor, the Maggid of Mezritch. Schachter-Shalomi and Miles-Yepez add color and texture to these stories and teachings with their own reminiscences and commentaries. Both are very knowledgeable about other religions, and this shines through effectively. In every way imaginable, the two authors share their incredible love for Hasidism and its spiritual riches.

Schachter-Shalomi and Miles-Yepez begin with the life and work of the Ba'al Shem Tov with chapters on "A Hidden Light," "A Heart Afire," and "The Wheel of Fate and Fortune." The lonely child who became a great saint consistently demonstrated an open heart toward his own frailities and those of others. The authors comment on the Ba'al Shem Tov's propensity for stories in which the enemy is turned into a friend. Another common theme in his teaching is seeing with sacred eyes the miraculous order of creation. Schachter-Shalomi uses this to share a chant for attuning to the four worlds of Jewish mysticism: "It is perfect, you are loved, all is clear, and I am holy." This is the kind of healing for the heart and the planet that we need right now. After a story by the Ba'al Shem Tov about spiritual constipation, the authors note:

"The Ba'al Shem Tov is not afraid of using sexual language in a sacred context, challenging us to expand our limited notions of intercourse and union. He is saying, think of 'the joy of the bride and groom' and that will give you just the smallest notion of how it is with God. Sexual pleasure is small in comparison, but that pleasure — the expansion of consciousness and the loss of the sense of separateness — will help you understand what this higher experience of union is about."

In their commentary on the teaching and stories of the Maggid of Mezrich, Schachter-Shalomi and Miles-Yepez reveal that he was an educator who believed in always teaching students through the use of short sentences and short prayers. That means he might have fit right in with the contemporary phenomenon of Twitter where you have to pack your communications into 140 characters. We also were impressed with the following advice from the Maggid:

Plant this idea firmly in your mind
That you respond to everything in life by saying,
"This is from God."

There are many other treasures in this robust volume but we will stop for now and hope that you will take the time to avail yourself of the wealth of wisdom of these Hasidic masters and the insights of Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Netanel Miles-Yepez.