Allen S. Maller

Why worry when you can Dance?

Worry (we call it anxiety now) is a perennial concern. Worrying about things, ancient Stoics and Epicureans agreed, was harmful to the soul. Martin Buber, the great 20th century Jewish philosopher and scholar of Hasidism, asserted more than a half century ago that, “the purpose of all great religions and religious movements is to engender a life of elation and fervor which no (later bad) experience can dampen and stifle.”

In this light I offer a sample of Hassidic wisdom sayings that I believe can be used as a departure point of spiritual wisdom by non-Jews as well as Jews.

For many people, Hassidic Jews are noticeable because of their Amish like dress and ultra orthodox behavior. But it is their unique stress on trusting in God and elevating one’s soul through joyful religious activities that makes them distinctive. The following wisdom sayings give a taste of the inner spiritual life of Hassidim (Pious Orthodox Jews).

One of the most important teachings of Hassidic Rabbis was not to worry about the future or sacrifice present joy because you fear it will not last very long. After all, most things people worry about never occur. As Rabbi Mordecai of Lekhovitz taught, “We must not worry. Only one worry is O.K. We should worry about (always) being worried.”

On the holiday of Simhat Torah the disciples of Rabbi Israel, the Baal Shem Tov (1700-1760), the founder of Hassidism, were at his home dancing and drinking. After several hours the Baal Shem Tov’s wife said she was worried they would drink up all the wine in the cellar and there would be none left for Shabbat. Rabbi Israel told her she was correct. Go tell them to stop. She went to the room where they were dancing and saw a ring of blue light around the dancing men. Then she herself went to the cellar and returned with a jug of wine in each hand.

The Baal Shem Tov’s great grandson Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav added another guideline, “Always remember that joy is not merely incidental to your spiritual quest. It is vital.” He also taught, “Get into the habit of dancing. It will displace depression and dispel hardship.”

Rabbi Michal of Zlotchov once said to his children, “My life was always blessed in that I never needed anything until I had it.”

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk taught: Strife exists only because each faction claims that (religious) TRUTH is on its side. When “THE truth is cast to the ground” (Daniel 8:12) the automatic moral result is peace.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel once asked, “Where can you find God? The other sages say that God is everywhere. I say God is wherever a person lets God in.” He also replied to someone who reported that a man who had recently come to town was a miracle worker, by saying that producing miracles was not that difficult. The real challenge is to produce people who will believe in miracles.

Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk once referred to a certain Hassidic rabbi as “a righteous person in a fur coat.”, explaining: When it is winter and it’s freezing cold, there are two things one can do. One can build a fire, or one can wrap oneself in a fur coat. In both cases, the person is warm. But when one builds a fire, all who gather round will also be warmed. With a fur coat, the only one warmed is the one who wears the coat. So it is regarding spiritual warmth.”

Rabbi Mendel also told his disciples, “It is possible to bring the dead back to life. Even better is to bring the living back to life.”

Rabbi Mendel then told his disciples: Souls descend from the higher world to our own by means of a ladder. Then the ladder is removed. Heaven calls the souls to return home. Some do not budge thinking it is impossible to rise to heaven without a ladder. Others jump up and fall back, jumping again and again until they despair of ever rising to heaven. Some souls, however, are aware that falling is inevitable yet they try again and again until the Holy One seizes them and pulls them home.

Rabbi Ya’akov Leiner of Izbica-Radzyn said: “As long as Adam remained awake, the feminine aspect of humanity was indiscernible. Only after God cast Adam into a deep sleep could the feminine emerge.” and “God, finally, will make it clear that, in truth, Adam ate only from the good part [of the knowledge of good and evil tree] thus, there was no sin. It only seemed so to Adam.

When Rabbi Hirsh returned from his wife’s funeral he was overheard saying to himself, “Up to now I was able to experience God’s presence here on earth through marriage. Now I shall have to experience God’s presence directly.” Two weeks later he died.

Rabbi Zusya of Hanipol said, “My mother Mirl did not pray from a book because she could not read. All she knew was how to say the various blessings. But wherever she was when she said the morning blessings, that place radiated God’s presence the whole day.”

Before his death Rabbi Zusya of Hanipol said, “In the coming world they will not ask me why I wasn’t a Moses or a Rabbi Akiba? They will ask me why I wasn’t Zusya?”

Rabbi Moshe of Kobryn taught, “We paid no attention to the miracles our teacher worked, and when sometimes a miracle didn’t come to pass, he only gained in our eyes.”

Rabbi Shelomo of Karlin taught, “What is the worst thing Satan can accomplish? To make a person forget that he or she is a child of God.”

Rabbi Simcha Bunam of Pzhysha taught, “The many sins most people commit are not great crimes. The great crime is that we are all capable of repentance/change/reform every day and we do not do it.”

When Rabbi Simcha Bunam lay dying his wife burst into tears. He said to her, “Please do not cry for me. My whole life was only that I might learn how to die (fearlessly).”

A Hassidic Sage who was near death got up and danced. When they tried to stop him he said, “This is exactly the time to dance.” He then told them a story and concluded, “When they (life’s hardships) come to you with very difficult demands, that is exactly the time to dance.” for the new year.

If you are depressed by today’s politicians try to believe in the optimistic hopes for our future and we will help fulfill the 2700 year old vision of Prophet Isaiah: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel  will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”(Isaiah 19:23-5)

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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