By Dr. Meir Tamari
These discussions represent the teachings of the Chassidic Master Shmuel of Sochochow as presented in his eight-volume work entitled Shem Mi Shmuel. The name of the work flows from the Talmudic definition of writing on the Shabbat that would incur the death penalty, as writing the two letters, Shin and Mem, a minimum that constitutes a word, these being the first two letters of his name. Dealing with each weekly portion of the Torah reading, the books represent the teachings of the Polish Chassidic school of Pshyscha, a school that developed a specific and special approach to Judaism. It seems that the teachings of this school may be summarized as follows:
- The importance of Talmudic study and knowledge in understanding the teachings of the Torah, and forming the ideological basis for Judaism. It should be noted that all of the Master’s of this school are well-known authorities in the Talmudic world and represent major commentators on the Talmud.
- There is a constant awareness and outspoken abhorrence of the smugness, self-worship, arrogance and externalities that come so easily to the followers of any ideology, including Judaism.
- In prayer, indeed in the observance of all mitzvot, the spiritual and mental preparation is as important, and perhaps more important than the actual performance.
- There is a muting and a downgrading of the role of the Tzadik (saint) as an address for material and physical blessings and so also marginalizes miraculous deeds.
Naturally, these teachings are inter-woven with the mainstream Chassidic concepts of the striving for redemption, the importance of the Land of Israel and the religious significance of the love of fellow Jews irrespective of the religious, social or moral status. However, they give these concepts a very special and specific orientation. It has been argued that this school aimed at creating an elitist group, in contrast to the generally mass orientated Chassidic groups and that this is reflected in all their teachings.
Basically, Shmuel of Sochochow, distills the teachings of the whole school of Pshyscha, commencing with the Yehudi Hakadosh, his successor Simcha Bunem, his primary pupil Menachem Mendel of Kotsk who was the grandfather of the Shem Mi Shmuel, the Chidushei Harim- first Admor of Gur, and above all perhaps, his own father Avraham-first Admor of Sochochow- author of Eglei Tal on Shabbat and the Responsa, Anvnei Nezer, both of them part of the study material in all Yeshivot even to-day. All of these sources are quoted freely and constantly. Indeed, the Shem Mi Shmuel often presents the only written source for their teachings, as they themselves left no or little writing of their own.
It should be borne in mind that this class is not a translation of a text. Rather, I have attempted to distill an idea of the Admor’s, according to the weekly reading of the parsha.
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Project Genesis, Inc.
Dr. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.