Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, the erudite author of Noda BiYehudah, was on friendly terms with the Baal Shem Tov but did not believe in him as a holy man and a miracle worker. Whenever the Baal Shem Tov was in his city Brody, in Poland, he would stay in his house, and the famous scholar would personally serve him tea, in fulfillment of the mitzvah of hospitality.

The wife...who did believe in the Baal Shem Tov...used to visit the House of Study with her sons...

When the Besht saw that he was disrupting the assiduous studies of his host, he ceased staying with him, and thereafter took up more modest lodgings in the communal House of Study. The wife of Rabbi Yechezkel, who did believe in the Baal Shem Tov as a tzadik, used to visit the House of Study with her sons in order to ask after his welfare. He, in turn, would interest himself in the well being of her husband.

Rabbi Yechezkel was altogether opposed to the ways of the newborn Chasidic movement, though he did not combat it publicly. Prominent in one of his responsa, however, is a violent attack on the new practice of introducing certain prayers in the Chasidic editions of the prayer book by the words LeShem Yichud, which bear Kabbalistic connotations.

This he considered presumptuous, and bitterly decried "those whose hearts raise them aloft, each of them saying: 'I am he who sees, and for me have the gates of heaven opened, and for my sake the world exists.'…It is to this orphaned generation that I would apply a paraphrase of the words of the prophet Hosea (in the Haftarah for Shabbat Shuva, as well as for parashat Vayeitze – Ed.): 'For the ways of G‑d are right; men who are just walk in them, but Chasidim stumble in them.' I have much to add on this subject, but our Sages have taught us that 'Just as it is a mitzvah to say that which will be hearkened to, so is it a mitzvah not to say that which will not be hearkened to.'"

Many years later, when one of his grandchildren prepared a new edition of this work for the press, he wanted to remove this gibe, and replace the word 'Chasidim' with the word 'sinners' – in accordance with the actual words appearing in the Book of Hosea – in order to make his grandfather's attack less blatant.

"...Your grandfather made Chasidim out of sinners; would you want to make sinners out of Chasidim?"

Ironically, it was a Chassidic rebbe who advised him otherwise: "Leave the sentence alone, and change nothing. Your grandfather made Chasidim out of sinners; would you want to make sinners out of Chasidim?"


[Connection to the Weekly Torah reading: the verse in the Haftarah]

Biographical notes:
Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer (18 Elul 1698-6 Sivan 1760), the Baal Shem Tov ["master of the good Name"], a unique and seminal figure in Jewish history, revealed the Chassidic movement and his own identity as an exceptionally holy person, on his 36th birthday, 18 Elul 1734. He wrote no books, although many claim to contain his teachings. One available in English is the excellent annotated translation of Tzava'at Harivash, published by Kehos.

Yechezkel ben Yehuda Landau (18 Tishrei 1713- 17 Iyar 1793) was an influential authority in Jewish law. He is best known for the work Nodah bi-Yehudah, a Talmudic commentary, by which title he is also known. Landau was born in Poland, to a family that traced its lineage back to Rashi, the famous commentator. In 1755, he was appointed Chief Rabbi of Prague.

Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the rendition in A Treasury of Chassidic Tales (Artscroll), as translated by our esteemed colleague Uri Kaploun from Sipurei Chasidim by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin.

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