(Yes, you are at the right blog. For those who have been waiting with bated breath for the next installment of the riveting endangered minhogim series, don’t panic! We will אי”ה get back to the minhogim, endangered or robust, do not worry. Just taking a break here, mixing it up a bit, need a change of pace sometimes.) 😉
While going through הישיבה הרמה בפיורדא, in the chapter on Rav Yosef Steinhart, there is a discussion about his position with regard to the contemporary Chassidic movement, which began in his time. As part of this, it shows part of the famous letter sent by the בעל שם טוב to his brother in law, R. Gershon of Kutov, which was first printed in the sefer בן פורת יוסף, printed in תקמ”א, in which the בעש”ט says that he met Moshiach in the course of an aliyas neshomo (heavenly ascent of the soul) that he had on ראש השנה of the year תק”ז.
Usually, when people hear, talk, and write about this letter, only a small snippet of it is mentioned. Actually, it is a lengthy letter, discussing various things. Usually what is mentioned is that the Besht asked Moshiach, ‘when are you coming Sir?’, and the reply given was ‘when your wellsprings spread forth outward’, which is explained to mean something like Chassidus spreading through the world.
When one looks at the actual letter, however, one sees that that is only part of the story, and that some important additional information was omitted. The relevant passage is as follows:
ושאלתי את פי משיח, אימת אתי מר? והשיב לי, בזאת תדע, בעת שיתפרסם למודך, ויתגלה בעולם, ויפוצו מעינותיך חוצה מה שלמדתי אותך והשגת, ויוכלו גם המה לעשות יחודים ועליות כמוך, ואז וכלו כל הקליפות, ויהי’ עת רצון וישועה. ותמהתי ע”ז והי’ לי צער גדול באריכות הזמן כל כך מתי זה אפשר להיות. אך ממה שלמדתי בהיותי שם שלשה דברים סגולות ושלשה שמות הקדושים, והם בנקל ללמוד ולפרוש, ונתקרר דעתי וחשבתי אפשר ע”י זה יוכלו גם כן אנשי גילי לבוא למדרגה ובחינה כמותי, דהיינו בהיותם יכולים לעליות נשמות וילמדו וישיגו כמו אני. ולא נתנה רשות כל ימי חיי לגלות זאת ובקשתי עבורך ללמוד אותך ולא הורשתי כלל ומושבע ועומד אני על זה
You can see it here, a bit over half way down the page. So basically it says that when others are able to make yichudim (Kabbalistic unifications) and aliyos (heavenly ascents) as the Besht, then Moshiach will come. Not just a generic ‘spreading of Chassidus’.
So my question is, how many people can do such things, today or then, Chassidim or non Chassidim, Kabbalists or non Kabbalists? And indeed the letter goes on to say that the Besht was very distressed about it, how long it would take to reach such a point. But from what he learned there in shomayim, three segulos and three שמות הקדושים that are easy to learn and explain, he was calmed, and thought that perhaps through them other people would be able to reach his level, namely to make aliyos neshomos like him, and to learn and attain, but permission was not given him all the days of his life to reveal it. And he asked on behalf of R. Gershon to teach him, but was not permitted at all, and was so sworn.
So perhaps, according to this letter, we can say that Moshiach didn’t come (according to Chassidic teachings) because others didn’t reach that level?
Am I missing something here? I know that there has been much written about the letter. Perhaps someone can explain?