The Tisch: Past lives

For Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, dreams were a medium for divine communication.

The spread of Hassidism as a movement in Hungary began in earnest after 1815. In one Jewish calendar year, three of the beacons of Hassidism in Galicia and Poland passed away: Rabbi Yisrael Hopsztajn of Kozienice (d. September 28, 1814), Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Rymanów (d. May 29, 1815) and Rabbi Ya’acov Yitzhak Horowitz, known as the Seer of Lublin (d. August 15, 1815). It was then that their disciple, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum (1759-1841), a native of Poland then serving as rabbi of Sátoraljaújhely (situated today in northern Hungary near the Slovakian border) publicly accepted the mantle of hassidic leadership.
Rabbi Teitelbaum is commonly known by the title of his homiletic work Yismah Moshe, which was published posthumously in 1849. He was one of the first who authored halachic responsa – published under the title Responsa Heishiv Moshe – while serving as a hassidic master, a model that would become popular in Galicia and the norm in Hungary.
At first, Teitelbaum was aligned with those who opposed the hassidic movement. At the urgings of his son-in-law, he traveled to visit the Seer of Lublin and after meeting him, he decided to join the ranks of the hassidim.
Besides his Torah scholarship and hassidic leadership, the Yismah Moshe was known as a mystic, often writing amulets for those in need. He was well aware of his soul’s transmigrations, relating that he had been in this world three times previously. His soul’s first journey to this world was as one of the sheep in the flock of the patriarch Jacob. According to Jewish mystical tradition, these sheep contained the roots of the souls of Israel.
The Yismah Moshe’s grandson related an episode when his grandfather told him of the second sojourn of his soul. It was during the years that the Jewish people wandered in the desert as they journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land. With a clear memory, the Yismah Moshe recounted the rebellion of Korah and his mob: “All the respected leaders of the Jewish people sided with Korah and it was only the masses that sided with Moses.”
“Grandfather, which side did you stand on?” asked the young lad eagerly.
“I stood alone, neither with Moses nor with Korah,” answered Rabbi Teitelbaum.
The grandchild was surprised: “Could it be, Grandfather, that you did not stand by our master Moses!?”
“You didn’t know Korah,” he replied, “If you knew Korah, you wouldn’t ask me that question!”
Hassidic tradition records that another reincarnation of the YismahMoshe’s soul occurred during the destruction of the First Temple. Somehassidic masters went further, identifying the Yismah Moshe’s soul asnone other than the prophet Jeremiah. In this context we can understandanother tale told about him: There is a tradition that the Third Templeis already built and operational in heaven, ready to descend the momentwe are worthy. Considering this tradition, the Yismah Moshe oncefinished the silent Amida prayer and was inspired to ask the Almightyto show him the Third Temple as it stands in heaven. God granted hisrequest and he had a vision of the prophet Elijah wearing the ritualgarments of the priests as he offered up the dailytamid sacrifice.
For Rabbi Teitelbaum, dreams were a medium for divine communication.Hence, he we would place great significance on any vision he merited.His Torah study would, at times, lead to fascinating and boldconclusions that had never been considered by Torah giants of previousgenerations. Though the Yismah Moshe was undoubtedly proud of theseinnovative readings of traditional texts, he was concerned: “Lest thereadings of our sages’ words that I suggest are not the originalintention of the authors. If that is the case, woe to me, for my‘Torah’ is not real Torah.”
At night he had a dream where he was told: “If you arrive at yourscholarly Torah conclusions after appropriate spiritual preparation andwith pure and honest mental faculties, you need not fret: Even if whatyou say was not the previous intent of the author and heretofore wasconsidered untrue, nevertheless heaven has accepted your words of Torahand they are now considered true Torah.”
The writer is on the faculty of Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and is a rabbi in Tzur Hadassah.