Many great teaching stories have been passed down through the generations from the great Hasidic rebbes of eighteenth century Europe. Another genre of literature developed in the sixteenth century in Safed, in what is now northern Israel, by the circles around Moses Cordovero and Isaac Luria. In this masterwork, Or N. Rose with Ebn D. Leader has translated and gathered a collection of this form, called hanhagot spiritual practices for applying Hasidic ideals to daily life. They are brief instructions which devotees were advised to carry with them so they would be able to refer to them whenever they needed inspiration or spiritual guidance. The teachings include suggestions for prayer, counsel on personal and interpersonal affairs, and tools, such as mantras and imagery exercises.
According to Rose and Leader, Hasidism emphasizes the importance of mystical contemplation, joyful religious service, and intentional living. The material in this excellent work is relevant to the desire many contemporary seekers have for spiritual practices which will help them discern the Divine in all aspects of life. The last section of the book presents hanhagot by Hillel Zeitlin and Arthur Green, two modern Hasidic teachers.
One of the first recommendations is the spiritual practice of enthusiasm:
"Rise from your sleep eagerly
because you have been renewed and have become a different person.
You are capable of bringing forth worlds,
like the Holy Blessed One."
Enthusiasm enables us to tap into our creative abilities in order to serve others. Each one of us shares with the Creator talents to bring forth new worlds through our imaginative efforts. R. Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk advices that we keep silent from the time we get out of bed until one hour after prayer, not even talking with anyone. Surely, if he were alive today he would add the admonition to not fill our minds with the outpourings of morning television.
The ideal in Hasidism is "a life of uninterrupted mystical contemplation." Here is a fine practice suggested by R. Dov Baer of Mezeritch:
"It is a great achievement
to be able to envision the Creator in your mind's eye at all times as if you were looking at another person.
Imagine that God is also looking at you,
just as another person would look at you.
Maintain this vision in clear and pure thought."
One of the best sections of this book has hanhagot designed to see and honor the Divine presence in our personal and interpersonal affairs. Here are spiritual practices on overcoming anger and greed, cultivating equanimity, letting go of expectations, and changing negative habits. This teaching by R. Hayim Heikel of Amdur is very profound:
"Always be mindful of your thoughts and feelings.
If you experience a loving moment,
connect it to your love for the Creator.
If you have a hateful or angry moment,
connect it to your awe of God.
If you feel arrogant,
sit and study, for the Torah is God's pride…
The basic principle is that you should not do anything great or small
Without first thinking about its Divine source."