This was a truly inspirational book. Before I touched this book I didn't have a clue to what Hasidism was about. I started the book twice and and thought it was so boring that I stopped on the first few pages. It was only at the beginning of this year that I promised myself to read it throughly. And once I started I couldn't let go!
Basically, it's a rough chronology of the hasidic movement in Judasim and talks about the lives and the tales of the hasidic masters. The tales open your eyes to different truths about spirituality, especially on pride and serving one another.
The tales of Nahman of Bratslav are covered extensively, as were the lives of several compelling figures such as Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk and Levi-Yitzhak of Berditchev.
Souls on Fire definately didn't make an instant Hasidc expert out of me, but it did give me a feeling for the history and traditions of a movement that, in the years of the holocust, played a major, if indirect, part in the preservation of Eastern European Jewry and it's culture.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes that I gathered from the book from different Hasidic Masters:
Baal Shem Tov: "Whoever loves God exclusively . . . . excluding man, reduces his love and his God to an abstraction."
Wiesel's Grandfather, a Hasid, but not a Rebbe: "To induce others to believe is easier than to believe."
Menachim-Mendl of Kotsk: "In Hell one prays better than in Paradise."
Rebbe Bunham of the School of Pshiskhe: "I think that I could reform any sinner - except a liar . . . . and the worst liar is one who lies to himself."
Very little though, in this book, can be read in a literal sense. To get the full impact of the book it is necessary to suspend reliance on reality in favor of imagination and perhaps a touch of compassion.
Hassidism, its tales, legends, and masters, has always been a source of mystery and confusion. "Souls on Fire" is a journey through Hassidism. Traveling from the source and further development of this unique Jewish religious manifestation is a joy when led by the mind and sould of Elie Wiesel. His personal and emotional input, the tales and legends included throughout the book, and his non-academic but rather humane approach (a typical Hassid) is the most sincere attempt in trying to understand and "speak of the unspeakable," sparkling light into a religious fervor born out of anguish and despair. The purpose is not to agree or understand, but rather to believe.
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