Exuberant Christian Mysticism for the Passionate

I first became intrigued by this fascinating group of Jews when I learned that Hasidics “emphasize the presence of God in all of one’s surroundings at all times.”

There is much to be admired about this passionate group of Jewish mystics. Historically and even today Hasidim are known for the exuberance of their worship. This may includes ecstatic prayer, heartfelt emotion, boundless love, singing, dancing and inevitable joy as the soul is elevated in communion with God. In fact, when the Hasidic Movement began in the 1700s, these rebellious worshipers were sometimes ridiculed by envious mainstream Jews for their emotional and ecstatic forms of worship.

Most central to Hasidism is the practice of unceasing attachment to (communion with) God. This is strived for in all activities of life, whether it be during prayer, meditation, daily work, or any mundane activity. This beautiful practice recognizes the sacred in all of one’s surroundings and activities.

The emphasis on personal, experiential communion with God is of course common to all traditions of Christian Mysticism, whether we’re speaking of yogis, Sufis, Taoists, Christian mystics, Zen Buddhists, or Jewish mystics. As might be expected, Hasidics derive many of their values and practices from Kabbalah, an older tradition of Jewish mysticism. For example, among Lubavitcher Hasidim, there is a powerful practice or prayer that is directed toward self-annihilation (or enlightenment/union with God). This concept too is common among other true mystics.

Also essential to Hasidism is the charismatic spiritual leadership of the Rebbe or Master, as distinguished from the orthodox Rabbi. The role of the rebbe evolved with the beginnings of Hasidism in the early 1700s. The founder of Hasidism, Baal Shem Tov, lived in the area of the Russian-Polish border in a time of unrest, Cossack massacres, and significant class divide even among Jews. Led by Baal Shem Tov (Besht), huge numbers of Hasidim challenged the practices of the Rabbis and Talmudic scholars who supported a repressive tax system and focused on study of the Torah, at the expense of personal and experiential communion with God. After the death of the Besht, a system of hereditary beloved rebbes, or zaddikim evolved.

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