In the mid-eighteenth century, in the early days of the Chassidic movement, Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz joined the inner circle of the Baal Shem Tov. Although he was more a friend than a disciple, he shared with the Baal Shem Tov some basic concepts, including the immanence of G‑d [the indwelling of G‑d in all of creation] and the goal of devekuth [communion with G‑d]. However, he differed with the Baal Shem Tov's successor, the Maggid of Mezhirech, in his emphasis on self-purification and simple faith rather than the attainment of devekuth through prayer. A fierce individualist and independent thinker, Rebbe Pinchas stressed honesty, humility, piety, and love for all Jews. Foremost among his disciples was Rebbe Raphael of Bershad, whose life was the embodiment of his master's teachings. This work presents a compilation, in English, of the spiritual teachings and insights of these two tzaddiks.
The philosopher Martin Buber devotes a chapter of Tales of the Hasidim: Early Masters to “Pinhas of Koretz and His School,” and he relates many stories about both R' Pinchas of Koretz and R' Raphael of Bershad. Buber states that their lives and philosophies were so intertwined that he decided to discuss them together in one chapter. The same principle has been followed here. The teachings of R' Pinchas are reflected in those of R' Raphael, and the stories about R' Raphael follow the example of his master, R' Pinchas. Together, their aphorisms illuminate some important aspects of early Chassidism and illustrate the ways in which their religious philosophy varied from that of mainstream Chassidus (Part 1).
This work is a compilation of the spiritual teachings of these rebbes, the parables they related, and the legends told about them, as well as the opinions and analyses of numerous commentators and scholars (Part 2). Many of the anecdotes were originally transmitted by oral tradition and later published in collections of Chassidic tales. Although the teachings have been published and are familiar to those who study the classic Chassidic texts in the original Hebrew, the present work attempts to bring together English translations of many of these teachings, organized according to topic or theme, and make them available to a wider audience. It is hoped that, from this collage of excerpts and quotations, a clear portrait of R' Pinchas and R' Raphael will emerge.
In addition, some information on the deaths and gravesites of the two rebbes (Part 3), the Bershad synagogue (Part 4), and various aspects of R' Raphael's life and teachings was obtained personally with the assistance of Rabbi E.E. Frankel (E.E.F.), Rabbi Y.M. Gabai (Y.M.G.), Rabbi T. Zwecker (T.Z.), Rabbi G. Rabinowitz (G.R.), S. Cohen (S.C.), I.P. Weisz (I.P.W.), “A Simple Jew” (A.S.J.), B. Fishman (B.F.), “A Yid” (H. Lubman) (A.Y., H.L.), A. Graeber (A.G.), E.S. Adelsohn (E.S.A.), R. Meytin (R.M.), N. Cohen Feuerstein (N.F.), Azriel Graeber (A.G.), Nathen Gabriel (N.G.), and A. Freedhand (A.F.). I am very grateful for their contributions and advice.
Part 5 (Sections A to D) provides bibliographic information for interested readers and researchers. The primary sources for the religious teachings of R' Pinchas and R' Raphael are manuscripts written in Hebrew and Yiddish by their disciples and contemporaries and later collected and published; some early and late editions of these works are listed, in order of original publication, in Section A. Although none of these collections has been translated into English as a whole, various excerpts have been translated and have appeared in print; many of these quotations are now in circulation on the internet. Section B lists, in alphabetical order, collections and analytical works that were consulted: books, dissertations, and journal articles published in print (links to electronic versions, if available, are also provided). Section C presents, in alphabetical order, the internet articles, essays, lessons, newsletters, web sites, and blogs where quotations were found. Section D presents endnotes (works cited in the text, in citation order). Primary sources for quotations are indicated if provided by the authors. Complete publication information, as well as web site links, can be found in Sections A, B, and C of Part 5.
Part 6 includes photographs of the gravesites of R' Pinchas, R' Raphael, and some of their disciples, as well as views of the synagogue in Bershad.
New additions to the text, including contributions from readers, are announced on the Updates page.
A Note on Editing and Accuracy
In the case of citations published in print, the author's spelling is retained (except that Hebrew terms have been italicized, some punctuation has been adjusted, and the Deity is referred to as “G-d”); thus, in direct quotations, the reader will see “tzaddik,” “tzadik,” “zaddik,” “zaddiq,” “tsadik,” and “ssadik.” Some personal communications and internet comments have been edited. The accuracy of the translations has not been verified.
Where quotation marks are used, the statements of analysis and interpretation (as well as supposedly factual historical information) are those of the cited authors and may be contradictory to one another. This document takes no position on most controversial issues; the goal is simply to make these statements and opinions, and their sources, available to the English-speaking public. The reader is encouraged to examine the interpretations of various authors with a critical eye, rather than taking them at face value.
Many of the quotations appearing on this noncommercial web site are excerpts from published works protected by U.S. copyright law; they are reprinted here for scholarly and educational purposes and with the express permission of the publishers and copyright holders. Some short quotations are cited under the “fair use” doctrine. Photographs are reproduced with the permission of the owners and copyright holders. None of these materials may be reproduced, displayed, or published without permission from the original copyright holders (see bibliographic information, as well as captions and links). The original material on this web site is similarly protected by copyright and may not be reproduced except for personal and noncommercial use.
Copyright © 2008-2016 by Susan K. Steeble. All rights reserved.
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The author is a sixth generation descendant of Rebbe Raphael of Bershad (R' Raphael → Levi → Israel → Moishe Friedhant → Meyer Freedhand → T.F.K. → Susan K. Steeble). The present work is an outgrowth of the author's genealogical research on her family. Further information on the descendants of R' Raphael is available upon request.
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