Dov Baer of Mezhirech

This Hasidic thinker believed man should constantly be aware of God.

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Reprinted from The Jewish Religion: A Companion, published by Oxford University Press.

Dov Baer of Mezhirech was a Hasidic master (d. 1772), leader, theoretician, and organizer of Hasidism after the death of Israel Baal Shem Tov. Although Dov Baer was a competent Talmudist he was never a town Rabbi, occupying only the secondary Rabbinic position of maggid (the word means preacher) in the towns of Rovno and Mezhirech in Volhynia, and is hence known by the Hasidim either as the Mezhirecher Maggid or as the Rebbe, Reb Baer.

Dov Baer only got to know the Baal Shem Tov during the last two years of the latter's life and while he quotes, very occasionally, sayings of the Baal Shem Tov, he never refers to him as "my teacher." Dov Baer is therefore more correctly to be seen as an original thinker with his own emphasis on what it is that Hasidism teaches.

The Maggid published nothing of his own but his teachings are found in works published by his disciples, especially Solomon of Lutzk, whose Maggid Devarav le-Yaakov, is an anthology of the Maggid's sayings with an introduction which provides a succinct account of the Maggid's thought.

According to the Maggid, man's central aim is to be constantly aware that God, as stated in the Zohar, "surrounds all worlds and fills all worlds and no space is unoccupied by Him." The Hasid must learn to perceive the divine energy with which all things are infused and in whatever he does he should intend to elevate all things to their divine Source.

Solomon Maimon (1753-1800), in his autobiography, describes in detail a visit he paid to the Maggid's "court" and the goings-on he witnessed there, including the pranks the Hasidim played on one another in order to awaken joy for divine worship. Maimon tells of a homily of the Maggid which, in fact, is also found in early Hasidic writings in the Maggid's name and is typical of his thought. A scriptural verse (2 Kings 3:15), with a degree of homiletical license, is made to read: "And when the minstrel became like the instrument he played then the hand of the Lord rested upon him."

When man considers himself to be nothing more than a passive instrument upon which God can play as He wishes, then the spirit of the Lord will rest upon him. In this and in other homilies of the Maggid, expression is given to the ideal of annihilation of selfhood.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.