Based on Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, “Chassidic Masters,” Chapter 4, and “Until the Mashiach.”
This year “Yud-Tes Kislev,” the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Dov Ber ben Avraham (1704-1772), better known as the Maggid of Mezeritch, falls on Sunday night, Dec. 2, through Monday, Dec. 3.
On the yahrtzeit of a tzaddik, it is customary to light a 24-hour candle, give a few coins to tzedakah and learn something from the tzaddik’s teachings or tell a story or two about him. We will provide a few translations from this great and awesome Chassidic master’s teachings in a separate posting.
According to tradition, the Maggid of Mezeritch was a leading student of the celebrated Talmudist known as the “Pnei Yehoshua” (Rabbi Yehoshua Falk, 1680-1756) in Lemberg (Lvov), at whose behest he later traveled to the Baal Shem Tov in search of a cure for his lameness. The Maggid was already a master of the Kabbalah by this time—but upon encountering the Baal Shem Tov, that mastery was forever transformed from intellectual knowledge to the most profound experiential knowledge of these mysteries.
After the Baal Shem Tov’s passing in 1760, some eight years later, the Maggid emerged as the unique disciple who would succeed in transmitting the Master’s teachings to a core of elite students, who in turn disseminated them throughout the Jewish world. Several collections of the Maggid’s oral teachings were published after the latter’s death by his disciples. These included Likutey Amarim (1780); Likutim Yekarim (1792); Maggid Devarav LeYaakov (1792); Ohr HaEmes (1799); and Ohr Torah (1804).
Although Rebbe Nachman was not a disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch (his formative years having been spent in the family circle of the Baal Shem Tov), he nevertheless had the highest praise for him. Reb Noson writes that once a group of people were discussing the greatness of the tzaddikim. One mentioned the testimony of a certain tzaddik that with wherever he set his eyes, the Maggid of Mezeritch could see all “Seven Shepherds” (i.e., Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David). Rebbe Nachman commented, “About the holy Maggid, one may believe everything.” Reb Noson adds that the Rebbe spoke many other praises of the Maggid and his inner circle of followers (Chayei Moharan #553).
Another great event that took place on Yud-Tes Kislev was the release of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad school of Chassidism, from the Czar’s prison. This liberation is still celebrated all over the world by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
In this connection, there is an interesting observation from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in his biography of Rebbe Nachman, “Until the Mashiach” (Breslov Research Institute), p. 40. In describing Rebbe Nachman’s journey to Israel, he writes:
“Thursday, 24 Tishrei 5559 (October 4, 1798): The day after the holiday [of Shemini Atzeres-Simchas Torah] the Rebbe wanted to return home immediately. His attendent, however, again refused to go, since he wanted to visit Tiberias. The Rebbe agreed (Shivchey HaRan).
On this day, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was taken to prison. He had been denounced to the Prosecutor-General in S. Petersburg as a political agitator (Tanya, Toldos Rabbenu HaZaken, p. 207; HaTamim, 214a). [Rabbi Kaplan adds:] This might have been why the Rebbe was so brokenhearted [during the preceding holy days].”
The “coincidence” of these events—Rebbe Nachman’s mysterious grief and the accusation and then arrest of the Baal HaTanya—is remarkable.
Upon his return to Russia from his momentous journey to the Holy Land, Rebbe Nachman went straight to the Baal HaTanya in Liozna, attempting (unfortunately, without success) to make peace between him and Rabbi Avraham Kalisker in Eretz Yisrael. And when the Baal HaTanya later traveled through the Ukraine on his way to meet with Rabbi Baruch of Medzhibuzh, he stopped to spend Shabbos Yisro with Rebbe Nachman in Breslov (“Until the Mashiach,” pp. 178-179)—but that’s another story…
Zekhusam yagein aleinu!