Speaking in one voice as “I,” Reb Zalman and his student Miles-Yepez comment on different voices in Hasidism, from the mystical rabbis who preceded the Ba’al Shem Tov, Yisra’el ben Eliezer, founder of Hasidism, to the teachers and disseminators of the 18th and 19th centuries who followed him. The authors seek to reconnect readers with the contemplative practice of Hasidic tradition. They offer new interpretations of the teachings of Rashi, Yitzhak Luria, the Ba’al Shem Tov, Mikeleh of Zlotchov, Pinchas of Koretz, Ya’akov Yosef of Polonoyye, the Maggid of Mezritch, Rabbi Reb Melekh, and the writings about them. Schachter-Shalomi and Miles-Yepez question the zeal of disciples whom they feel lost touch with spirituality by repeating words without understanding or by manipulating stories so that text prevented words of prayer from filling with light and rising up to heaven. In this mission to keep open the divine connection between God and people and to widen the circle of men and women Hasidism might inspire, the authors also discuss Adel Ashkenazi, the Ba’al Shem’s daughter, as a healer and herbalist, and forge connections to Buddhism and Sufism.
Fluid and passionate, A Heart Afire draws on the authors’ personal knowledge and the sources themselves to promote spiritual reflection and to provide new relevance for readers both inside and outside of Hasidic practice. Appendix, bibliography, glossary, notes.
Sharon Elswit, author of The Jewish Story Finder, now resides in San Francisco, where she has been helping students visiting 826 Valencia locations around the city to write stories and poems and getting adults up and retelling Jewish folktales to share with their own spin.