What is this course?
The Chasidic movement started by the Ba'al Shem Tov (R' Yisroel ben Eliezer) in the mid-1700's harnessed the powerful ideas of Kabbalah to create a spiritual and psychological revolution in that has changed the lives of millions of people.
In this course, taught by Rabbi Daniel Silverstein, we will study ideas, practical wisdom and exercises that can help us to live with more joy, presence and self-awareness.
The course consists of two, six-class instalments:
In the first instalment, we explore the teachings and practices of the Ba'al Shem Tov himself, the founder of the movement, his successor the Maggid of Mezritch and the Chernobyler Rebbe (Me'or Einayim), a key student of both the Ba'al Shem Tov and the Maggid.
In the second instalment, we explore the texts and practices of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim (the grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov), Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (the great-grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov) and the radical Polish schools of Peshischa and Izhbitz.
Each of these has been selected to maximise our exposure the to transformative spiritual treasures of Chasidism. There are two classes on each of these:
1) The Ba'al Shem Tov (R' Yisroel ben Eliezer, c. 1700 - 1760) was an enigmatic figure who secluded himself in nature and practiced the healing arts for many years, before revealing himself as a great teacher of a new approach to Torah. His revolutionary perspective on Jewish texts and practices opened a new spiritual pathway for millions of people, revitalized Jewish life in Eastern Europe for 200 years, and continues to have a profound impact on Jews around the world. Some of his primary themes were the centrality of joy, and serving and cleaving to the Divine through our physically embodied experiences.
2) The Maggid of Mezritch (R' Dov Ber ben Avraham of Mezritch, 1704 - 72) was a great Talmudist and Kabbalist who was initially skeptical of the Ba'al Shem Tov's teachings. However, he was won over and became his devoted student, and later his successor in leading the Chasidic movement. In fact, it was the Maggid who turned the Ba'al Shem Tov's beautiful but unsystematic teachings into a coherent ideology and an organized movement that would sweep across Eastern Europe. He was a contemplative mystic who was able to articulate the subtle inner work of how to heal our thoughts and how to connect to the Divine no matter where we are or what we're doing.
3) The Chernobyler Rebbe (R' Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl, 1730 – 1797) is also known as the Me'or Einayim (Light of the Eyes), after the name of his most important book. One of a few who learned from both the Ba'al Shem Tov and the Maggid, he was key leader in the early days of the movement. As the name of his book suggests, his teachings emphasize the profound light that is available to all of us in every moment; even when it seems otherwise, our consciousness can connect us to the Divine and to our best selves. As leading scholar Arthur Green writes, his work offers, "perhaps the most faithful exposition of key themes in the BeSHT's teaching..."
4) The Degel Machaneh Ephraim grew up in the Ba'al Shem Tov's home and offers us both direct access to his grandfather's ideas and his own uniquely sensitive lens on how to bring these teachings and practices into our lives. His teachings span the gamut from simple, heart-opening parables to complex kabbalistic homilies to detailed practice instructions on visualizing the Divine Name and healing our thoughts.
5) The radical Polish schools of Peshischa and Izhbitz brought crucial voices to Chasidism that emphasised the search for personal integrity, authenticity, personal connection with the Divine, and genuine humility. We will explore how these schools developed in the context of a movement that had become increasingly superficial and hierarchical, and how Masters such as Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk and Rebbe Mordechai Yosef Leiner (the Mei HaShiloach) fought against the prevailing norms to create an important path for those wary of the limitations of institutionalised religion.
6) Rebbe Nachman of Breslov founded a once-tiny movement that has overcome significant opposition to become an influential force throughout the Jewish world. The psychological insight, poetic beauty and spiritual power of his teachings have touched many seekers. His key themes include: our power and responsibility to shape ourselves, our thoughts and relationships; the struggle to be joyful' the practice of praying in our own words (Hitbodedut); and maintaining resilience and equanimity throughout the challenges of life.
These great teachers will transform how we approach everyday activities such as speaking with others, eating and drinking, studying, singing, working, studying and praying. They will also provide invaluable tools and techniques for increased insight, self-awareness and healing.
All texts are provided with clear line-by-line translations, and no prior knowledge or experience with the subject matter is necessary.
How does it work?
Revolutionary Chasidic Ideas and Practices is a twelve-class journey.
The classes are recorded (audio and video) and participants can watch or listen to the recordings of the classes at any time they like.
Each two-class module focuses on a different Master or School, with its own approach to our inner work, and includes:
1) Two recorded classes exploring the background, teachings and practices of each Master and School, providing context, close reading, critical analysis and ideas for application in our day-to-day lives. Each class is 1 hour long and participants are invited to watch or listen to the recordings at their own convenience.
2) Handouts which outline the historical, intellectual and spiritual context and background of the module's Chasidic Master.
3) Chasidic teachings providing a broad and deep perspective of each Master's unique areas of focus, key ideas and practices, provided in full translation with introductory comments and guiding questions.
4) Clear and down-to-earth instructions for that module’s spiritual practice, based on the teachings of the module's Chasidic Master.
5) An ongoing online conversation about the sources and the practices. Here you can ask anything you like, share whatever thoughts and ideas are arising for you, and receive feedback from Rabbi Daniel and, if you choose, from other participants as well.