The stories and teachings of the Hasidic masters from Eastern Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries gained widespread attention when Martin Buber translated them in the mid-twentieth century. In this SkyLight Illuminations edition, Rami Shapiro offers his translations and interpretations of these profound stories that are filled with insights into human nature and Divine activity in everyday life. A congregational rabbi for 20 years, Shapiro currently directs the Simply Jewish Foundation. His books include Minyan: 10 Principles for Living a Life of Integrity, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages, Proverbs, and The Way of Solomon.
In a story about a rebbe who travels to a distant hamlet to learn that he must not only be careful about what goes into his mouth but be equally attuned to what comes out, Shapiro offers this commentary: "The Baal Shem Tov taught that every word you overhear, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, is in fact spoken for your ears alone. Every moment, life presents you with another opportunity to look within yourself and see where you can improve the quality of your thought, word, and deed. Do not imagine that the world revolves around you it doesn't. But know that whatever is in the world is in you as well. Let reality be your rebbe."
This down-to-earth and practical approach shines through in another Hasidic tale where Reb Avraham Yaakov says that it is possible to learn great truths from inanimate things. From a train, for example, we learn that in a single second, we can miss the whole thing. From a telephone, we learn that what we say here can surely be heard there. The Hasidic masters want us to realize that once we see the world as abounding with messages from God. everything can be a spiritual teacher.
A number of the stories deal with the two impulses or inclinations that drive people to action: the selfish and the selfless. We must not put ourselves first, and we must look out for the needs of others. One defining act of faith for the Hasidic masters is generosity. Opening your heart and sharing with others is always the right thing to do.
There is plenty of wise counsel on these pages about listening, hospitality toward strangers, avoiding idle and slanderous speech, becoming a godly vessel, dealing with spiritual pride as a roadblock on the spiritual journey, and surrendering the outcomes of situations to God. One of our favorites is about a rebbe who says goodnight to God. Shapiro's commentary is: "Follow the example of Reb Naftali, and find something to do each day that offers up pure pleasure to God. In this way you will spread joy throughout the world, for the more pleasure the world gives God, the more pleasure the world receives from God."