As a yeshiva student in the Old City of Jerusalem, I was immersed in Chasidic and Talmudic texts for years. Until my own rabbis thrust me into the stream of visitors, I was virtually oblivious to the back packers and tourists who thronged to the world center of spirituality. The rabbis explained that Torah is like water – it comes from a high place to a low place to quench the thirst of the soul. But, those who seek “living waters” (mayim chaim) – Torah that not only permeates but also percolates in the soul and ascends – must reach out to others. So, for me it was “sink or swim.” I had to get the attention of tourists and passers-by and connect with spiritual searchers who were “here one day and gone the next.” For that, I needed to find inspirational teachings to share that were simple to understand yet profound.

There was no question that Chassidut was the answer. The words of the Chassidic masters are what reach the heart and touch the soul. Among the most effective teachings that I found is a work called Shem miShmuel, a series of collected discourses by the Chassidic Rebbe, Shmuel Bornstein ztz’l, (1855-1927). The discourses were originally delivered between the years 1911 and 1924, when Reb Shmuel was the spiritual leader of Sokochov, a town west of Warsaw, Poland. Since then, he has come to be known by the title of this work as the Shem miShmuel.

The decision to translate and publish excerpts from the original Hebrew material (which is voluminous), stems from recognition that there is a great need for spiritual words which speak to everyone. Of course, all words of Torah come from the ultimate source of spirituality – from G-d Himself – but it is the inner dimensions of Torah that resonate in the heart and arouse the innate will of the soul to get close to Him. The words of Chassidut in general, and of the Shem miShmuel in particular, have a way of touching this inner point and arousing the element of fire and love in the soul. It matters not if the seeker comes from afar and has no previous background in Judaism, or whether he or she is a lifetime Torah student, both the beginner and the veteran find the teachings of the Shem miShmuel accessible yet deep, owing to their lucid presentation of the inner dimensions of the Torah.

From the day that the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai, some 3300 years ago, it included a written element (the Five Books of Moses) and an oral element (later to be written down as the Mishna and ultimately redacted with the detailed discussions of the sages as the Talmud). However, the inner dimensions or the secrets of the Torah – better known as Kabbalah – continued to be transmitted orally to a few select scholars in every generation. Not until the publication of the Zohar in 1270 did Kabbalah take on a form that could be studied, though not necessarily understood, by more than the select few. With the advent of the Chassidic movement of the Ba’al Shem Tov, and especially of the Chabad Chassidic movement in the 18th century, Kabbalah took on a form that everyone could not only study, but understand as well.

Commonly, it is explained that the word Kabbalah is etymologically based on the Hebrew lekabel, meaning “to receive.” Accordingly to this definition, Kabbalah is the “received tradition” of the secrets of the Torah which are transmitted in every generation. However, this explanation does not suffice, since not only the secrets of the Torah but the entire Torah is transmitted and received in every generation. Another explanation, based upon the word hakballa, or “parallelism,” is more meaningful. According to this definition (for which we are indebted to Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh shlita), Kabbalah is the study of hidden correspondences among the various levels and concepts of the Torah.

The Shem miShmuel makes liberal use of the principle of hakbala. In many cases, he reveals startling correspondences between concepts and events in the Torah that we never would have dreamt were associated. For example, in various contexts it is common for the Shem miShmuel to draw our attention to the following triplets: the forefathers (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), the three dimensions in which the Torah was given (time, space, and soul), and the rectification of the three cardinal transgressions of the Torah (idolatry, murder, and promiscuity). The reader himself will have to discover when and under what circumstances the author draws these parallels, but suffice it to say that they constitute a major theme of the discourses.

Reb Shmuel ztz’l also quotes extensively from the Ari z’l, from the Maharal of Prague, and from his own father’s and grandfather’s works. His father, Reb Avraham ztz’l was the scholarly Sokochover Rav, author of two prominent works in the field of Jewish law, the Eglei Tal and the Avnei Nezer.

His grandfather was the famous Kotzker Rav – Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotzk ztz’l. It is precisely this melding of Jewish pedigree with modern Torah understanding that makes the Shem miShmuel so appealing to both the scholar and the new devotee to Judaism.

The Korman family of Englewood, New Jersey, is to be commended for providing a vital service by dedicating this translation of excerpts of the Shem miShmuel. In their merit, we hope to disseminate the words of the Shem miShmuel to where they are most needed – to the spiritually thirsty of our generation – so that we may all merit to see the arrival of Maschiach, the Messiah, speedily in our day.

Rabbi David Sterne
Old City of Jerusalem, Cheshvan, 5768

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