Somewhere a Master: Hasidic Portraits and Legends is one of Elie Wiesel’s wonderfu and intensel books filled with stories of legendary Hasidic Masters.
Each individual, was a sage in their own right, and each one brought a depth of illumination into the ideals, practices, and the joy received within spiritual practice. The Talmud was an integral force in Hasidic Judaism. There came a point when some felt it was important to expand spirituality’s horizons and the tales, fables and stories brought comfort to followers of the sages. In Somewhere a Master, Elie Wiesel details, in vivid paintings, the compelling stories of these individuals, and their contribution in bringing happiness and song into the lives of Russian, Lithuanian, Polish and Ukrainian Jews during the dark and desperate times.
Times were harsh, filled with depression and despair, and persecution of Jews. Lives and families were uprooted, throughout the landscape of Eastern Europe. There seemed to be no escape from the devastation and cruelty.
The sages, legendary teachers, saw the necessity for escapism, and the need for happiness to be a primary facet in the lives of their followers. They chose to tell their tales, spread their teachings through joyous stories and participation. They wanted to uplift the poor, down-trodden, the despairing, and the poverty-stricken within their realm.
Rebbe Pinhas of Koretz chose to stand on the sidelines of Hasidism, yet his message was a strong one within his peers. He believed that “A good story in Hasidism is not about miracles, but about friendship and hope – the greatest miracles of all“.
Rebbe Ahron of Karlin was a legend in his own time, fighting until the end to escape through the melancholy into a state of joy. He, too, believed in deep friendship, and “he would like every Hasid to spend one hour a day with a friend – and confide in him“.
From the self-sacrificing Wolfe of Zbarazh, to the beautiful stories of Barukh of Medzibozh and his love of the Song of Songs, each master is compelling, and their stories can apply in today’s world. Their words are life lessons, lessons on joy, love, caring, selflessness, and finding happiness in a world overcome with darkness. Each individual illuminates and sparkles throughout the landscape, and within confines of isolation. Their auras flow over geographical boundaries and constraints, spreading warmth in the hearts and souls of those who needed caring and comfort.
Reb Moshe-Leib of Sassov was possessed with ecstasy and warmth, and it radiated through to everyone around him. The Holy Seer of Lublin (Rebbe Yaakov-Yitzhak Horowitz) was influential, charismatic, and nobody seemed to have the will to resist his stare. While Rebbe Meir of Premishlam despised poverty, and he prayed for monetary fullfilment. “Why shouldn’t I pray for money for my Jews?” he once asked.” On and on, the statements and the stories go.
Many of these sages understood melancholy, as they were affected by it, themselves. Silence was a big part of their lives. Prayer was a major force in what determined their standing in the Jewish community with their peers and followers. Each one thought about not only life, but death, and what it would mean to die. They worried about where they would be in the scheme of death. Yet they overcame their own depressions and melancholy and brought joy and light to those in need of an escape from the harsh realities of life during tumultuous times, including the Holocaust.
Elie Wiesel has brought us another masterful book of portraits of Jewish masters, sages, and teachers, each with their own stories, each with their own perceptions of what it is to be in a joyous state. Each one speaks about the spiritual aspect of life, not only depicting words of the Talmud, but verbal stories and tales that those before them could believe in, and bring home and retell in moments of despair, loss and sadness. When injustice and cruelty reigned, the sages brought a sense of peace to those filled with anguish. Somewhere a Master: Hasidic Portraits and Legends is an incredible book, filled with compassion, love and kindness, and infused with lessons we can carry with us within the context of modern times and current events. It is as compelling as it is filled with loveliness. Written masterfully, as only Elie Wiesel can write.
In the Afterword Elie Wiesel writes: “Such is the power their legends; their intensity, their beauty stay with you and involve you – almost against your will, almost against your better judgment.” I find this statement to be extremely profound in its truth.
I highly recommend Somewhere a Master: Hasidic Portraits and Legends to everyone.
Copyright 2012, L.M. No permission is given to reproduce, copy or use my writings or photographs in any manner.