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Judaism: Hasidic Mystics
Judaism: Hasidic Mystics

Shining the Light of Divine Life

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber (1878–1965) helped introduce the non-Jewish world to the passionate spirituality of nineteenth-century Hasidism. As a young boy, Buber lived with his grandparents in Lemberg, present day Lviv, Ukraine. He was impacted by his grandfather’s Hasidic faith and went on to dedicate much of his scholarly life to sharing the legends, sayings, and stories of Hasidism. Much like the sayings of the Christian desert fathers and mothers, Hasidic short sayings contain wisdom beyond their words. We share several from Martin Buber’s work and encourage you to read them slowly, several times, to experience their prayerful wisdom.

This first saying is reminiscent of Thomas Merton’s words, “For me to be a saint means to be myself.” [1] We discover our true identity in God when we no longer pretend to be anything other than who we are:

Rabbi Zusya . . . said, a short while before his death: ‘In the world to come I shall not be asked: “Why were you not Moses?” I shall be asked: “Why were you not Zusya?”’ [2]

The following saying captures the Hasidic emphasis that, as the biblical Jacob discovered, “this place is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17):

It is said of a certain Talmudic master that the paths of heaven were as bright to him as the streets of his native town. Hasidism inverts the order: It is a greater thing if the streets of a person’s native town are as bright to them as the paths of heaven. For it is here, where we stand, that we should try to make shine the light of the hidden divine life. [3]

The final saying reminds us that, while God’s presence is found in all reality, it takes an inner willingness to encounter it:

‘Where is the dwelling of God?’ 
This is the question with which the Rabbi of Kotzk surprised a number of learned men who happened to be visiting him. 
They laughed at him: ‘What a thing to ask! Is not the whole world full of [God’s] glory?’ 
Then he answered his own question:  
‘God dwells wherever man lets him in.’ [4]

[1] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1972), 31.

[2] Martin Buber, The Way of Man, According to the Teaching of Hasidism (New York: Routledge Classics, 2002), 10. Note: Minor edits made to incorporate inclusive language.

[3] Buber, The Way of Man, 31.

[4] Buber, The Way of Man, 33.

Explore Further. . .

For an introduction to the mystics featured in this week’s Daily Meditations, watch Managing Editor Mark Longhurst interview Jewish mysticism scholar Arthur Green. 

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 7 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Menachem Weinreb, two Jewish boxes of tefillin unwrapped (detail), 2021, photograph, Jerusalem. Arthur Allen, Untitled 12 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: God, unveiled, in our deepest rituals and traditions as well as in the simplicity of light moving across stones and trees.

Story from Our Community:

Around the age of twelve, I was walking with my family right after the rain, and my sister and I were splashing around in the puddles, laughing and having so much fun. Suddenly the sun came out, streaming through the trees, and I was overcome by a penetrating sense of joy. I felt beyond myself as if I was looking at my family from a distance and seeing them from the inside out. I felt full of love for them and I felt connected to all that was around. I felt truly alive, whole, and connected to everything in a way I had never experienced before. —Catherine D.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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