The Golden Mountain
Available in PDF, epub, and Kindle ebook. This book has 184 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1932. This book is in the public domain because the copyright wasn't renewed on time.
This is a collection of tales of the Eastern European Hassidic Jews, centering on the holy men Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlaw. Whilst having elements of folk tales, these magical stories of the Hassidic rabbis are also encoded with deeper spiritual levels of meaning and traditions. Stories include: Before He Was Born; Israel and the Enemy; The Book of Mysteries; The Secret Marriage; The Bride in her Grave; Rabbi Israel and the Sorcerer; Two Souls; The Standing Sheep; The Mad Dancers; Rabbi Israel and the Horse; The Burning Tree; The Water-Spirit; The Rich Man; The Trial of Rabbi Gershon; Rabbi Israel's Daughter; Prayer; Thrice He Laughed; The Burning of the Torah; The Boy's Song; The Wandering in Heaven; The Prophecy of the New Year; The False Messiah; The Holy Land; His Torah; After the Death; The Book of Mysteries; The Dynasty; The Lost Princess; The Broken Betrothal; The Cripple; The Bull and the Ram; The Prince; The Spider and the Fly; The Rabbi's Son; The Sage and the Simpleton; The King's Son and the Servant's Son; The Wind that Overturned the World; and, The Seven Beggars.
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Excerpt from The Golden Mountain
Two hundred years ago, in a remote hut in the Carpathian Mountains, there lived a wonder-worker named Rabbi Israel. Some now say that he never existed; the like has been said of King Arthur and of Jesus Christ; their legends remain with us. Some say that Israel was never a rabbi, but rather an unlearned peasant who took authority unto himself. It is told that even as a child he deserted the village schoolroom to run into the woods where he learned the speech of animals and birds, of trees, stones, and flowers.
A grown man, he knew all the secret mysteries of Cabbala; but he refused to lead the stifled life of the synagogue scholar, turned his back upon the rabbinical bickerings and pin-point disputes over minutae of the law, and withdrew to the mountains, where he earned his livelihood as a lime-burner, and where he would wander alone, sometimes for many days, absorbed in his strange reflections.
When Israel came down from the mountains to Medzibuz it was to teach men to live with abounding joy, for joy in every living thing, he said, is the highest form of worship. The woods were holy, and the fields, every stone and blade of grass contained a spark of the living Soul; every act of living: breathing, eating, walking should be accomplished with fervour, joy, ecstasy, for every act spoke to God.
Scholars who had passed their pale youth huddled over tomes of the law lifted their heads and for the first time saw the sky; he drew them out of the murky synagogue into the open fields; there, too, he said, God would hear them.
He did not violate tradition; he enlarged it. He was observant of every point of the law, and he revered the house of prayer; but he said again that divinely simple truth that becomes lost in the ritual of every religion; he said that the full-hearted desire to worship was more important than the form or place of worship.
Disciples gathered about him; soon legends began to grow of the wondrous deeds and teachings of Rabbi Israel, and then he was called the Baal Shem Tov, which means the Master of the Wondrous Name. By that Name, he had the power to do miraculous deeds. He went from one end of the earth to the other in the space of a single night; he conquered the wild boars that the sorcerers set upon him; he pierced the iron wings that shrouded the earth from heaven; he drew the dead bride from her untimely grave.
For a thousand years the Jewish folk genius for the creation of myth had made no new body of legend. But now the genius that had made the unsurpassable tales of the bible and the gem-like parables of the Talmud was turned back to its natural sources, and at once it began to weave the marvellous fabric of the legend of the Baal Shem Tov.
He had stood in the market-place, telling his fables to the entranced people who gathered about him while the rabbi of the town preached to an empty synagogue. In their huts of a Sabbath, his followers repeated the strange meaningful fables he had uttered, and told tales of the miraculous deeds he had done. Pilgrims came to Medzibuz, and carried home with them the tales of the Baal Shem Tov. Soon his followers numbered in the hundreds, and they became known as the Chassidim. The word Chassid implies intense piety, ardour, fervour, ecstasy.
Despite the opposition of many noted rabbis, who accused him of ignorance, of wizardry, of Sabbath-violation, the number of Israel's followers grew, for his teaching had that beauteous simplicity that goes directly to the hearts of the common folk. The secrets and delights of heaven were no longer reserved for the scholars who could pass all their days and nights in the house of study; the water-carrier and the mule-driver could gather around the long table in the hut of the Master, and take part in the discussion.
After several generations, the Chassidim numbered half the Jewry of Eastern Europe. They were governed by their Tsadikim, or exalted saints, to whom they came for decision on every conceivable occasion. If a merchant of Brody could not make up his mind whether or not to go to Lemberg to buy goods, he asked his Tsadik; if a housewife did not know whether or not an egg was pure, she asked her Tsadik; if a father did not know whether or not a certain match was suitable for his daughter, he asked his Tsadik. The power of the Tsadik was transmitted in his family, so that soon veritable dynasties of Chassidic rabbis were established.
Soon, too, the decline of the movement set in, for many of the latter Tsadikim took advantage of their power, lived in pomp and luxury, and even sold the honour of being seated next to them at table. The meaning of Chassidism was lost; pleasure took the place of joy, and orgy of ecstasy.
There are still hundreds of thousands of Chassidim, many of them true to the original meaning of their belief; and among them, true Tsadikim are to be found.
But the last to attain the exaltation of the Baal Shem Tov was his own great-grandson, Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlaw. In him, the Chassidic legend had its fulfilment and its completion.
Folk literature has two sources. The tales may grow imperceptibly as they pass among the people, each teller adding his words, until the image is complete; or they may be made in entirety by one who is so completely within his folk as to speak with the voice of the entire people. The Chassidic legend is drawn from both these sources.
The legends of the Baal Shem Tov have no single authorship; they were made partly from the Baal Shem's sayings, partly by story-tellers who went from town to town repeating the tales; one of the legends is concerned with what happened to such a storyteller. Later, the tales were written down, and to this day they are circulated by the hundreds of thousands in little penny-story-books printed in every city of Poland and Russia. Many generations of Jewish children had no other Arabian Nights than these Chassidic tales, whose glamorous adventures they absorbed while their parents discussed the deep meanings concealed in the same fables. At last scholars, philosophers, and literary men discovered the legends, and such masters as Israel Zangwill, Sholom Asch, S. Ansky, and the German poet-philosopher Martin Buber have made use of them.
End of excerpt.
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