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December 15: The Maggid of Mezeritch

December 15, 2013
99Rabbi Dov Ber ben Avraham, who inherited the mantle of leadership of khasidism from the Baal Shem Tov (who died in 1760) and became known as the Maggid (preacher) of Mezeritch, is said by most authorities to have died at 62 on this date in 1772. Born into poverty, and suffering numerous health problems, the Maggid nevertheless became a key architect of the khasidic movement, which spread throughout Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine despite the opposition of the traditional rabbinate, which saw the ecstatic fervor and populist sensibility of khasidism as dangerous to the Jews and undermining to their own authority. Rabbi Dov Ber was a great organizer of leaders from among his disciples — among them, Rabbi Levi Yitzkhok of Berditchev, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, and Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. Some of them captured his teachings in books that gave a systematic exposition of the Maggid’s brand of Jewish mysticism. On April 11, 1772, Rabbi Elijah, the Vilna Gaon, issued a writ of excommunication against khasidism and refused to meet with Menachem Mendel and Shneur Zalman; Lubavitcher khasidim have subsequently taught that had the Gaon only met with these two, the messiah would have come. “From the child you can learn three things: He is merry for no particular reason; never for a moment is he idle; when he needs something, he demands it vigorously. ” —Rabbi Dov Ber