The Great Mission: The Life and Story of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, newly released by the Kehot Publication Society, publishing arm of the Lubavitch movement, offers English speakers a comprehensive understanding of the man who first dared explain a new dimension of Jewish mystical concepts to the masses.
Part biography, part philosophy, part story, this hagiography sets itself apart from the scores of books written about the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, for one very important reason: its pedigree. All stories and teachings included within The Great Mission are drawn from the talks and written works of the seven leaders of Chabad-Lubavitch, which constitute an unbroken chain from the Baal Shem Tov through modern times.
Compiled by Rabbi Eli Friedman and translated by Rabbi Elchonon Lesches, The Great Mission startles the reader as it reveals the sensible approach of the Baal Shem Tov. Far from exhorting the simple folk to abandon their labors for the sake of mumbling mantras, the Baal Shem Tov revolutionized Judaism with a philosophy that embraced “concern, not condemnation” and sought to “uplift the sincere and the simple” and “bolster economic stability.” The Baal Shem Tov’s approach to Divine providence and G-d’s continuous role as Creator were revolutionary at the time and continue to place an individual’s relationship with G-d on a more personal level.
With the vast forested Carpathian mountains as a backdrop, the forgotten side of the Baal Shem Tov, that of community leader, is also recalled. Evidence of the Baal Shem Tov’s successes in rescuing Jewish farmers from imprisonment by landowning despots is provided. His quest to validate the spiritual efforts of simple, unlettered Jews stands in stark contrast to the popular fire-and-brimstone preachers of his day. What emerges is a picture of a true Jewish leader who was pious without being pretentious, mystical without being disconnected.
To deepen this understanding of the Baal Shem Tov, read the section on his teachings. By teasing out nuances in biblical verses, the Baal Shem Tov demonstrated how simple prayers purely uttered could outshine the deeds of the most scrupulously righteous. By sampling his incredible ability to phrase the deepest, most esoteric scholarship in readily understandable concepts, it’s easy to see why the Baal Shem Tov’s approach gained such a wide following. While others offered heaven, the Baal Shem Tov presented hope.
Of course, no book about the great Baal Shem Tov would be complete without a wealth of stories. The Great Mission delivers chapter upon chapter of the Baal Shem Tov’s mystical journeys and miracles. The Great Mission provides details – of specific prayers, dates, locations – that give the tales an authenticity lacking in other Baal Shem Tov books.
The Great Mission stays true to its mission and offers a riveting portrait of a truly great man.
To obtain this book, click here: Great Mission