The twenty-five stories contained in this volume open fascinating vistas of Hasidic life and do it with love, understanding, and a rare degree of the storyteller's art. In Souls and Secrets: Hasidic Stories, Joseph Patai conjures up the world of the Hasidim, in which every act and event has a hidden meaning of great importance that can fatefully impact the life of the individual Hasid and the entire community of which he is a part. Several of these stories revolve around simple everyday occurrences whose true significance escapes, the Tzaddik opens their eyes and helps them to see. While the life of the Hasidim, as revealed in Patai's stories, is confined and often poverty-stricken in its material aspects, it s nevertheless endowed with a singular spiritual richness. The Hasidim are convinced that the Heavenly Maker keeps an eye on them and that the lives they lead on earth have a direct bearing on what happens Above. Thus they live simultaneously in two worlds: in this lower one, where they must often suffer deprivation and pain, and in the spiritual world, where the place of each individual is determined solely by his piety, his moral stature, and the strength of his belief. Quite remarkable is Patai's presentation of the Tzaddik, the hub, center, and foundation of the Hasidic community. He is infinitely superior to the average Hasid in his knowledge of earthy and heavenly affairs, in his understanding of human need and divine will, and in his ability to find solutions to problems that beset his followers and their community. Adulated though he is by the believers, there is nothing superhuman about the Tzaddik, and his leadership of the Tzaddik, and his leadership of the Hasidim depends not so much on the capacities he possesses as on their belief in his power to know what God wants and to influence Heaven on behalf of his flock. Perhaps what is most characteristic and endearing about the characters in Patai's stories is that they are suffused with a love of the Hasidic world, including the simplest individual Hasid. One suspects that despite the the authoritative position Patai achieved as the acclaimed cultural leader of Hungarian Jewry, his spiritual home remained in the world of the Hasidim, which had indelibly impressed him in his childhood. Patai has artfully translated the love of that world into stories that irresistibly draw the reader into the magic circle of their beauty.
by Joseph Patai
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