Monday, July 2, 2012

A Ba'al Shem Tov Tale

We return this week to Isaak Nibulskiy, who retells a story that he heard from his grandfather about the Ba'al Shem Tov (also known by the acronym, the "Besht"). In this tale, the Besht works a miracle by helping a poor barrel-maker improve his lot.  Such stories are typical of the hagiographic tradition of the Hasidic movement and are perhaps best exemplified by the wonders told in the collection known as Shivhei ha-Besht, or, as it is known in English, "In Praise of the Ba'al Shem Tov".

A keen listener might have noticed that the setting of Nibulskiy's story in early 19th century Lithuania does not correspond to the biography of the Besht, who lived c.1698-1760 and settled in Medzhibozh, present-day Ukraine.  This sort of confusion is indicative of the process of folklorization, in which a story is passed on from generation to generation, in this case from grandfather to grandson, and the details get lost in transition.  It is possible that Nibulskiy combined two or more different stories about the Besht himself and about Shneur Zalmen of Liadi (the "Alter Rebbe," 1745-1812), the founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty.  Because the stories were orally transmitted and there was no written source for Nibulskiy to refer to, it would have been easy for him mix these memories together.

--Asya Vaisman & Sebastian Schulman

No comments:

Post a Comment