Yeshua, the Besht and Hasidic Origins
James Scott Trimm
In my previous article Nazarene Judaism is True Chasidic Judaism , I covered the history of the original Chasidim (Hasidim) mentioned in the Book of the Maccabees, and even earlier in the Psalms, and showed that Nazarene Judaism of the First century sought to restore the principles of ancient Hasidic Judaism. At the end of that article I pointed out that the modern Rabbinic movement of Hasidic Judaism was also an attempt in Rabbinic Judaism to restore the principles of ancient Hasidic Judaism.
In this article I want to explore the many parallels between the Rabbinic restoration of Hasidic Judaism and that of the First century Nazarenes. I believe that these parallels are so strong as to point to the conclusion that many of the key figures in the restoration and progress of Hasidic Judaism, were in fact believers in Yeshua as Messiah, and may even have been called (whether they realized it or not) to slowly guide Judaism back to Messiah.
I want to explore how this information lays a foundation for both outreach to the Hasidic Jewish community, as well as a deeper understanding for seasoned believers in the teachings of Yeshua and his Talmidim through an understanding of their Jewish roots.
This path may not be for everyone, but if you seek a better understanding of the deep things of YHWH, as well a common ground for outreach to Rabbinic Hasidic Jews, this path may be for you.
Is Nazarene Hasidic Judaism the new defining path of the Worldwide Nazarene Assembly of Elohim? Absolutely not! It is only a path within the greater assembly, one that I personally have found enriching. If you feel the calling to follow this path, then the Nazarene Hasidic Movement Worldwide is here for you.
A Parallel Development
Both Nazarene Judaism and Rabbinic Hasidic Judaism grew out of similar social conditions. In both situations the Jewish people were dominated by foreign powers. Both followed the disappointments of the promises of false Messiahs. And both grew out of a time when the Jewish religious establishment had grown out of touch with the needs and concerns for the common Jew.
During the time of the rise of the ancient sect of Nazarene Judaism the Roman Empire ruled the Land of Israel as well as most of the “Known World” with an iron fist. The House of Herod was hated as an obvious puppet of Rome and the people were greatly oppressed and longed for freedom and independence.
It was in this atmosphere that a great Messianic anticipation grew, and false Messiahs arose only to leave the people disappointed and downtrodden:
36 For from before this time, Todah rose up, and said concerning his nefesh, that he was something great: and about four hundred men followed him. And he was killed, and those who followed him were scattered, and became like nothing.
37 And Y’hudah HaGalili rose up after him, in the days that men were registered for the poll tax, and caused many people to turn after him. And he died, and all those who followed him, were scattered.
(Acts 5:36-37 HRV)
This demoralization of the Jewish people was compounded by a widespread feeling that the religious establishment had lost touch with the concerns of the common people. The Sadducees were deeply in league with the nobles, the Pharisees were concentrating on halachic details, and the Essenes were reclusive and isolated from the common man. The people were hungry for restoration.
Some 1,700 years later in Poland an amazingly parallel situation arose. Like the ancient Nazarene sect of Judaism, the Rabbinic restoration of Chassidic Judaism flourished in the face of oppression:
…the social and economic circumstances of Polish Jewery were deplorable. Jews were the target of religious incitement by the Catholic church; secular authorities imposed onerous taxes. Pogroms were frequent; the ritual murder charge was promoted to arouse the peasantry against Jewish communities; opportunity for general education was almost non-existent, and the morale of Polish Jewry was at its lowest ebb.
(The Hasidic Anthology; Newman, Louis, 1934; p. lxi)
Like the Jews of the Second Temple Era, these Jews cried out for a Messiah to deliver them. At about that time arose a false Messiah Shabbatai Tzvi, who restored a sense of pride among the Jewish people. He was claimed by many to be the Messiah until 1666 when he converted to Islam in order to save his own skin. Jacob Frank was there to pick up the pieces, but his movement quickly degenerated:
…In the darkness of night and behind closed doors and windows they held their meetings, and sought by means of song and dance, not without erotic accompaniments, to arouse themselves to that orgiastic, ecstatic state which they believed was necessary preliminary for all religious fervor.
(Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 391, 1948)
The Messianic hopes of these false Messiah’s left the Jewish people with shattered promises and broken hopes. Rabbinic Judaism was in crisis. And while the people needed a new hope, the religious establishment concentrated on debating the fine points of halacha. As Martin Buber observed hese scholars treated the “ignorant” masses with contempt. (The Origin and Meaning of Hasidim, 1960 p. 60). One Chasidic saying of the time observed:
The pious Mitnagdim [anti-Hassidim] are afraid of transgressing against the Code of Torah, but the Hasidim are in fear of transgressing against Elohim.
(Ideas and Ideals of the Hassidim; Dr. Aron Milton, 1969, p. 14)
The ancient sect of the Nazarenes also sought to demystify the mystical teachings of Judaism (which in those days were kept in secrecy among the Essenes) by bringing these mystical teachings to the common people (1Cor. 1-2, 12). The Hasidic movement of the seventeenth century also sought to demystify these same basic teachings which had come to be known as “Kabbalah”.
Yeshua and the BESHT
There are also many parallels between Yeshua, the founder of Nazarene Judaism (a restoration of ancient Chasidic Judaism) and the Besht (Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer known as the Ba’al Shem Tov (Master of the Good Name), the founder of modern Rabbinic Chaddidism. Both were especially drawn to the poor and needy. Both dedicated their lives to the well being of the Jewish people. Both administered healing with compassion to the downtrodden. And while neither of these men wrote a word of their own, their followers after their deaths recorded their words and deeds.
The Shivchei HaBesht records the words and deeds of the Besht, just as the gospels record the words and deeds of Yeshua. Both record claims of miracles performed by their respective subjects and both were written about fourty-five years after their subjects death. While the book of Hebrews makes the claim that Yeshua never sinned (Heb. 4:15) the followers of the Besht ultimately made the same claim about him (Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters; Martin Buber, 1947 p. 35).
Yeshua began his ministry at about the age of thirty (Luke 3:23). The Besht began teaching while in his thirties.
Ha Satan came to earth and sought to prevent Yeshua from succeeding in his work:
3 And the tempter came; he said to Him, If you are the Son of Elohim, say that these stones be made bread.
4 And Yeshua answered and said: It is written, For not by bread alone will man live, but by everything that proceeds from the mouth of YHWH, will man live.
5 Then HaSatan took Him up to the Set-Apart city, and set Him on a turret of the temple,
6 And said to Him, If you are the Son of Elohim, drop yourself down. For surely it is written, For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to keep you in all your ways; upon the palms of their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.
7 And Yeshua answered him and said: It is also written, You shall not tempt YHWH your Elohim.
8 And again HaSatan took Him up into an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all: from the kingdoms of the world, and their glory.
9 And said to Him, All these will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me.
10 Then said Yeshua to him: Get yourself gone, adversary, for it is written,
YHWH your Elohim you shall worship, and Him alone you shall serve.
11 Then HaSatan left Him: and behold, angels drew near and attended Him.
(Matt. 4:3-11 HRV)
Interestingly there is a traditions concerning the Besht which claims that HaSatan came to earth seeking to interfere in his mission as well:
The hours when the hosts of Heaven gathered to listen to the voices of mortals, were hours of grace. But Satan was there too. He knew very well that what was in the making down there [on earth] would threaten his power on earth. So he entered into the body of a sorcerer who could change himself into a werewolf.
Once when Israel [the Besht] was walking through the woods and singing with the little ones in his care, the monster fell on them, and the children screamed and scattered in all directions. Some of them fell ill from the shock and the parents decided to put a stop the the young school assistant [the Besht]. But he remembered what his father had said as he lay dying, went from house to house, promised the people to protect their children, and succeeded in persuading them to entrust them to him once more. The next time he shepherded them through the wood, he took a sound stick with him and when the werewolf attacked again, he struck him between the eyes, so that he was killed on the instant. The following day they found the sorcerer dead in his bed.
(Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters; Martin Buber, 1947 p. 36-37).
In another parallel, Yeshua was known to associate with sinners:
10 And it came to pass, as they sat down to eat in the house, behold, many transgressors and sinners came in, and ate with Yeshua and His talmidim.
11 And the P’rushim, seeing, they said to His talmidim, Why does your teacher eat with transgressors and sinners?
12 But when Yeshua heard, He answered, saying:
There is no need of a physician to heal the healthy,
but to heal them that are sick.
13 Therefore, go you and learn what is written:
I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,
for I have not come to call the righteous,
but the sinners.
(Matt. 9:10-13 HRV)
And Yeshua also stood against those who dismissed the common man:
9 And He spoke this saying against the men who were confident concerning their nefeshot–that they were righteous, and were despising everyone.
10 Two men went up to the Temple to pray: one a Parush, and the other a publican.
11 And that Parush was standing with his nefesh and thus praying, Eloah, I thank you that I am not like the rest of mankind: extortioners, and covetous, and adulterers, and not like this publican.
12 On the contrary, I fast twice in a week, and I tithe everything that I own.
13 But that publican was standing from afar, and did not even want to raise his eyes to heaven: but was beating upon his breast and saying, Eloah: have mercy on me, a sinner!
14 I say to you that this [publican] went down to his house more justified, than that Parush: for everyone who raises his nefesh up will be humbled, and everyone who humbles his nefesh, will be raised up.
(Luke 18:9-14 HRV)
The Besht taught very similar views:
I let sinners come close to me, if they are not proud. I keep the scholars and the sinless away from me if they are proud. For the sinner who knows that he is a sinner, and therefore considers himself base—God is with him, for He ‘dwelleth with them in the midst of their uncleanness.’ But concerning him who prides himself on the fact that he is unburdened by sin, God says, as we know from the Gemara: ‘There is not enough room in the world for myself and him.’
(Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters; Martin Buber, 1947 p. 71-72).
Yeshua was once asked concerning fasting:
14 Then approached Him the talmidim of Yochanan, saying, Why [do we] and the P’rushim fast often, but Your talmidim fast not?
15 And Yeshua said unto them:
Can the sons of the bridegroom cry, as long as they have the
bridegroom with them? But the days will come, when the
bridegroom will be taken from them, and then will they fast.
(Matt. 9:14-15 HRV)
Similarly we read of that the Besht was asked:
What is the essence of the service? We know that in former times ‘men of deeds’ lived who fasted from one Sabbath to the next. But you have done away with this, for you said that whoever mortifies his flesh will have to render account as a sinner, because he has tormented his soul. So do tell us: what is the essence of service?
The Ba’al Shem Tov replied: ‘I have come into this world to point another way, namely that man should try to attain to three loves: the love of Elohim, the love of Israel, and the love of the Torah—it is not necessary to mortify the flesh.
(Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters; Martin Buber, 1947 p. 52)
Yeshua emphasized joy in our lives:
These things I have spoken to you that My joy might be in you,
and [that] your joy might be perfect.
(Yochanan 15:11 HRV)
Likewise the Besht said:
No child can be born except through pleasure and joy.
By the same token, if one wishes his prayers to bear fruit,
he must offer them with pleasure and joy.
(The Hasidic Anthology; Newman, Louis, 1934; p. 203)
Yeshua emphasized loving ones neighbor and judging him by the same standards by which you judge yourself:
34 But when the P’rushim heard that He had silenced the Tz’dukim, they took counsel together.
35 And one of them, which was a doctor of the Torah,616 asked Him, and tested Him, and said to Him,
36 Rabbi, which is the greatest commandment in the Torah?
37 And Yeshua answered him, and said: You shall love YHWH your Elohim: with all your heart, and with all your nefesh, and with all your might.
38 This, is the greatest commandment in the whole Torah.
39 And this is the first, but the second is like it: And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the Torah and the Prophets.
1 Judge not, and you will not be judged: condemn not, and you will not be
2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged: and with what measure you mete, it will be measured to you again.
3 And how [do] you see the splinter in your brother’s eye, but see not the beam that is in your own eye?
4 And how [do] you say to your brother, Suffer it now brother,d so that I may pull out the splinter out of your eye: and behold, a beam is in your own eye?
5 You hypocrite! Pull out at the first, the beam from your own eye: and then you will be able to see, to pull out the splinter out of your brother’s eye.
12 Therefore whatever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them: for this is the Torah and the Prophets.
(Mt. 7:1-5, 12)
The Besht likewise said:
It lies upon you to love your comrade as one like yourself. And who knows as you do your many defects? As you are nonetheless able to love yourself, so love your fellow no matter how many defects you may see in him.
(The Ba`al Shem Tov’s Instruction in Intercourse with God, translated by Martin Buber (English transl. by Maurice Friedman) in Buber’s Hasidism and Modern Man:] 244)
Yeshua was known for having a special love for children:
13 Then were brought to Him children, that He should lay hands on them and pray, but His talmidim rebuked them.
14 And Yeshua said: Allow the children, and hinder them not from coming to Me: for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.
(Matt. 19:13-14 HRV)
Likewise of the Besht’s students said of him:
I wish people would kiss the Holy Torah in the same manner the Besht used to kiss the children when he gathered them to bring them to their studies.
(Ideas and Ideals of the Hassidim; Dr. Aron Milton, 1969, p. 32)
In fact just as Yeshua was resurrected, many of the the followers of the Besht came to claim concerning him:
…those whom he had bidden attend to his body and his burial,
said they had seen the Ba’al Shem’s soul ascend as a blue flame.
(Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters; Martin Buber, 1947 p. 84)
Of course there are also serious differences between Yeshua and the Besht. Yeshua was, of course the Messiah, while the Besht made no such claim. And of course some of these claims about the Besht may well more rooted in legend than in reality (such as claims that he was sinless).
In restoring the ancient Sect of the Nazarenes we are ourselves restoring true Chasidic Judaism, and so there should be no surprise to see many parallels between Nazarene Judaism and Rabbinic Chasidic Judaism. Both are sects of Judaism seeking to restore the original Chasidim.
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