Tales of the Hassidim

‘Zusha’ website launched last week at President’s Residence in Jerusalem

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April 2, 2017 02:10
2 minute read.
 Three rabbis, the sons and grandson of a leading Hasidic rabbi Eliezer Ehrenreich walk in the cemet

Three rabbis, the sons and grandson of a leading Hasidic rabbi Eliezer Ehrenreich walk in the cemetery in the village of Mad, Hungary, July 21, 2016. Picture taken July 21, 2016. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Most people think that President Reuven Rivlin, who frequently tells the story of how his family came to Jerusalem in 1809 at the behest of the Vilna Gaon, who was opposed to the hassidic movement, is a mitnaged, which is the name given to the Lithuanian stream, that for decades was at odds with hassidism.

But the truth, said Rivlin on Thursday, is that he’s “me’orav Yerushalmi” (a Jerusalem mix).

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The expression usually applies to a Jerusalem mixed grill – a specialty of the city composed of chicken hearts, spleens and liver mixed with bits of lamb. On his mother’s side Rivlin comes from a long line of hassidim, and although his father was a mitnaged, he was quite adept at telling hassidic stories, said the president.

Rivlin was speaking at the launch at the President’s Residence of a Hebrew Internet site, “Zusha,” that will enable easy access to hassidic tales, which constitute a significant body of Jewish heritage that is both wise and simple, joyful and sad, spiritual and material, and inevitably carries with it a moral message.

The project initiated by journalist Sara Beck and edited by Ze’ev Kitzis is supported by the Ministry for Jerusalem Affairs and Jewish Heritage, the Avi Chai Foundation, the Center for Educational Technology, Landmarks and the National Library Prize winning author Haim Be’er, who heads the public committee that oversees the content of the site, and whose own writings are infused with hassidic stories, said that all the great Hebrew writers such as Hayim Nahman Bialik, Yosef Haim Brenner, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Avraham Shlonsky and Zelda (Schneurson Mishkovsky) were all descended from hassidic backgrounds.

Calling the hassidic tales that have been handed down for generations a treasure, Be’er said that it was a national duty to preserve them and make them accessible.

Beck disclosed that Bialik, Agnon and Martin Buber had planned a large anthology along the same lines and collected stories from all over, but unfortunately, just as they were ready to have the work published, a fire broke out in Agnon’s home in 1924, and all the material was burned. Buber and Agnon were also engaged in producing a multi-volume work of hassidic teachings under the title of Corpus Hasidicum, of which only a few pages were rescued from the fire and are included the collections of the National Library, which made them available for viewing at the launch along with the first ever published hassidic book, Toldot Yaakov Yosef, which dates back to 1780.

The name of the site and its message, “To Thine Own Self Be True,” is based on a famous hassidic story: that of the great hassidic scholar Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli, who wept when lying on his deathbed. One of his disciples asked why he was so sad. With all the good deeds that he had accomplished in his life, he would surely find his reward in Heaven. To which Rabbi Zusha replied: “I’m afraid that when I get to Heaven God will not ask me why were you not more like Moses or why were you not more like David? He will ask me why were you not more like Zusha? And then, what will I be able to say?”


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