19.12.2010 12.Tevet, 5771
The hassidic world is steeped in ideas and practices whose roots are in the kabbalistic weltanschauung and particularly the canonical texts of the Zohar and the writings of Rabbi Yitzhak Luria (Ari, 1534-1572).
Indeed, in many ways the hassidic movement was – as the great scholar Gershom Scholem (1897-1982) put it – “the latest phase” of Jewish mysticism. Yet even a cursory look at the hassidic world of today will reveal that Kabbala and the Zohar do not appear to be central. It is far from likely to find a copy of the Zohar in the private library of your average hassid. What happened? The early hassidic masters saw themselves as heirs to the kabbalistic tradition. This is reflected clearly in one of the few extant documents that can be authenticated as belonging to Rabbi Ysrael Baal Shem Toy (Besht, c.1700-1760), the person who inspired the movement. The Besht tells us of a mystical experience where he learns that the messiah will only come once all people are as proficient in kabbalistic practice as he was….