Four Hasidic Masters and Their Struggle against Melancholy

Four Hasidic Masters and Their Struggle against Melancholy

Four Hasidic Masters and Their Struggle against Melancholy

Four Hasidic Masters and Their Struggle against Melancholy

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Portrays four charismatic leaders of the eighteenth and nineteenth-century Hasidic movement in Eastern Europe.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780268009472
Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press
Publication date: 08/31/1978
Series: Yusko Ward-Phillips Lectures in English Language and Literature , #9
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 949,834
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.37(d)

About the Author

Elie Wiesel (1928-2016) was a professor emeritus at Boston University, where he was the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities since 1976. His work on behalf of human rights and world peace has earned him the Nobel Peace Prize (1986), the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the United States Congressional Gold Medal, among many other honors. In 1986, Marion and Elie Wiesel established The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, to advance the cause of world peace by creating a new forum for the discussion of urgent ethical issues confronting humanity. Wiesel is the author of more than forty books, several of which have won international awards.

Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. (1917–2015) was president of the University of Notre Dame from 1952 to 1987. As an adviser to presidents, special envoy to popes, theologian, author, educator, and activist, Father Hesburgh was for decades considered the most influential priest in America. He is the author and editor of a number of books, including The Challenge and Promise of a Catholic University (University of Notre Dame Press, 1994).


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

September 30, 1928

Place of Birth:

Sighet, Romania


La Sorbonne

Read an Excerpt

What are we to make of Wiesel’s strange collection of four masters whose faith and affirmation of life seem to have been overcome by sorrow and depression? This book makes clear that for all his nostalgia and desire to impress us with Hasidism’s great spiritual life, he was too committed to integrity to present a Disney-fied Hasidism in which joy, unity and Messianic anticipation has total sway. Wiesel took the non Jewish community completely into his confidence to tell them some unvarnished truth about this great renaissance movement in Judaism.

What is Wiesel’s message for us in retelling the tale of four masters who fell into melancholy and spiritual crises alongside their profound connection to God and humanity. First, he tells us that all great religious figures are only human. A man can be creative and connected to God and charismatic as a leader yet be full of anger that leads him to lash out from time to time. Embrace of life and fear of death can be mixed in one nature. Trust in God does not always overcome existential angst in human beings. Wiesel is teaching us to mature enough in our religious understanding to take the good with the bad without becoming disillusioned or cynical.

Secondly, Elie suggests that relentless persecution wears people out. It certainly ground down these four great masters even though they went all out to assure their followers not to give in to despair. He is telling us that while religion comforts the afflicted and assures that God is with us in our pain, we cannot stop there. We are called to end the oppression and liberate the imprisoned. The full human being is a united body and soul. The spirit and body must both be redeemed.

Wiesel also suggests that religious leaders and all who wish to uplift others are vulnerable. The Rebbe listens deeply to the tales of woe of every Hasid and lightens their burden by taking on their needs and and concerns. For some leaders - at some point - the cumulative weight of the others’ troubles may overmaster the most buoyant spirit. The nature most refreshed by intimacy with God may be cut off from God and man by that pain. The answer is not to withdraw or lay down the leadership burden but to go into our healing role with eyes open and without illusion. Nor should we promise followers a rose garden. Rather we can have compassion for those wounded in battle (as these four masters). We should draw from their strengths and fulfill our destiny, whatever the cost.

Note that Wiesel repeatedly speculates that the four masters were broken due to their premonitions of the future Holocaust that would devastate and decimate their followers’ future generations. He mentions the liquidation of the Koretz ghetto in 1941 or the Seer of Lublin’s prophetic anticipation of the mass murder of the Lublin province Jews in the killing centers of Belzec and Majdanek. I confess that in my bones I don’t feel this likely connection. That may well be because my soul was not consumed and reshaped in the fires of the crematoria as was Elie Wiesel’s. Revisiting this book, however, made me wonder whether Elie’s portraits were expressing his depression, carrying the memories of Sighet and Auschwitz all his life.

In a friendship of more than five decades, I never saw him exhibit depression and/or stop functioning. Reflecting on the book, I wonder to myself: maybe he was depressed all those years but hid it. Maybe he feared that any hint that hope is fractured by the Holocaust, would lead others to give up altogether.He feared that they might tune out his call to hope and to repair the world. I did notice that he always carried sadness in him. When we first met, in my heart I was convinced that he would never marry or create a family because part of him was still in the grip of the Holocaust universe. That is why I always felt a deep gratitude to his wife, Marion. She crossed over the raging river of memory that separated the two worlds, lifted Elie and carried him to the world of life and creation of the future generation. I ask myself : maybe the sadness I detected was really depression - a condition that he heroically masked as he inspired Jewry and humankind to hope, to do justice and loving kindness and walk humbly with God and follow humans.

(Excerpted from the introduction by Irving Greenberg)

Table of Contents

Foreword by Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C.

Introduction by Irving Greenberg

1. Rebbe Pinhas of Koretz

2. Rebbe Barukh of Medzebozh

3. The Holy Seer of Lublin

4. Rebbe Naphtali of Ropshitz

Background Notes


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