Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Toldos Yaakov Yosef the First Chassidic Sefer Ever Published

The Ba'al Shem Tov Part 1

Let's begin with none other than the Ohr Shivas HaYamim Meshiach Hashem Rabbeinu Yisroel Ben Eliezer, the Holy Baal Shem Tov. A nice bio is here here and here

The Baal Shem Tov HaKadosh wrote no seforim of his own. Much like the AriZal, all we have are collected teachings recorded by his students.

The first collection of Toras HaBaal Shem Tov are actually found in the first Chassidic Sefer ever printed: The Toldos Yaakov Yosef, by the Baal Shem Tov's talmid, Rav Yaakov Yosef of Polnoya, or Polnoy printed in Koretz, Ukraine, in 1780.

To access a new printing of the Toldos Yaakov Yosef in two volumes:

To see excerpts of teachings I translated from the Toldos Yaakov Yosef you can download a copy from my website

The Toldos as he is referred to quotes his master hundreds of times. The sefer was off course banned and even burned by the misnagdim, however that did not stop the Toldos from writing other seforim and spreading Chassidus.

Though the Toldos did not succeed his master as the next leader of the Chassidic movement
(that was left to Rav Dov Ber the Maggid of Mezritch) and no dynasty was founded after him
he left several important seforim and several disciples as a spiritual inheritance to us.

Among his disciples we find Reb Leib of Shpole, Rav Gedaliah of Linitz author of Teshuos
on the Torah and the famous Rav Yaakov Shimshon of Shpitevka (see 40-45).

His sefer the Toldos Yaakov Yosef became the first Chassidic sefer ever published in 1780 in
Koretz. He authored three others, Ben Poras Yosef, Tzafnas Paaneach and Kesones Pasim. He
passed on, on 24th of Tishrei 1781.

You can download the Ben Poras Yosef 1781 Koretz here בן פורת יוסף

You can download the Tzafnas Pa'aneach 1782 Koretz here צפנת פענח Both editions are the first printings from Koretz.

You can read Ketones Pasim here

And download the Kesones Pasim Levov edition here

You can download a copy of the Sha'ar Blatt (the title page) to his works here

The Ben Poras Yosef is perhaps most well known for the famous letter that the Baal Shem Tov sent to his brother-in-law rav Gershon Kitover in Eretz Yisroel regarding the ascension of his soul on high and the vision of Moshiach that he saw. בסופו אגרת הבעש"ט לגיסו ה"ר גרשון קיטווער אודות עלית הנשמה שלו

You can see this letter here and it continues onto the next page

This letter forms the message and mission statement of my publishing house Be'er Mayim Chaim namely that "In a letter to his brother-in-law, Rabbi Gershon Kitover, the Baal Shem Tov relates: "On Rosh Hashanah of the year 5507 I made an 'ascent of soul'... I ascended level after level until I reached the chamber of the Moshiach... And I asked Moshiach: "When will the Master come?" And the Moshiach replied: "When your teachings will be disseminated and revealed in the world, and your wellsprings will spread outside..."

You can also read it in translation here

Please enjoy a Story about the Toldos which will appear G-d willing in my upcoming sefer MeOros Kedushas Levi on the Torah in English

Buying the Toldos to Save Berditchev

Rav Chaim Elazar Shapira of Munkascz author of Minchas Elazar told the following story:

When Rav Yaakov Yosef of Polnoya printed his holy sefer the Toldos Yaakov Yosef on the Torah he
traveled to Berditchev on the day of the trade fair. He brought with him two hundred copies to sell.
He rented a storefront and placed a copy or two of his book open in the window to display it to
passerby who might be interested in purchasing it. He was sure without a doubt that anyone who would
just read a few lines and see what he had written would run to snatch up a copy.

However when some interested potential buyers asked him the price of a volume and the Toldos
answered them that the price was a Rendil (a very valuable gold coin worth hundreds of dollars), they
laughed and went on their way saying: "For a whole Rendil we can buy a new wardrobe and shoes to
match!" Days passed with no sales and the fair was drawing to a close. The Toldos was despondent, he
began to feel very disappointed.

Somehow word got to the Berditchiver and the Kedushas Levi knew the entire story. He told his
faithful Rebbitzen the entire story, "Our dear friend Rav Yaakov Yosef has come here to Berditchev to
sell his new sefer at the fair. His asking price is too high and I am afraid that in his anger and
disappointment at his situation the entire city will be punished as a result."

Based on her husband's sage advice the Rebbitzen decided to sacrifice one of her prized possessions.
She quickly hurried off and went to pawn her shterntichel (a beautiful crown of silver or gold and
diamonds) for the sum of two hundred rendils. She handed the entire sum of money to the Berditchiver
so that he could purchase all the seforim and save the town from the impending tragedy.

The holy Berditchiver took a young man as his emissary and gave him the entire sum, a small fortune
and asked him to try and bargain with the Toldos. "Ask him to give you a discount if you buy forty or
fifty books," explained the Berditchiver. He hoped thereby to make the sale seem authentic and so that
the Toldos would not suspect a thing.

However when he approached the Toldos, the latter would not budge a cent from his asking price. No
matter how the young man haggled and tried to wheel and deal the Toldos stubbornly replied: "Even if
you were to take the entire lot of two hundred books, I will not lower the price by even a kopeck."
Finally the young man purchased all two hundred seforim for the entire sum. Afterwards the Toldos
having finished his business decided to visit the Rav of Berditchev before talking his leave of the city.

When he came to visit the Berditchiver he excused himself for not visiting yet since he was busy with
the mitzvah of selling his seforim.

The Toldos then recounted to him the entire story of and of how pained he was that at first no one
bought any of his seforim, "However," concluded the Toldos, "finally Hashem sent me a young man
with a good head on his shoulders who really appreciated my sefer and valued it so much that he
bought all two hundred copies for the price I asked!"

The Berditchiver listened and smiled, "really you don't say?!" was all he remarked at the wondrous tale.
(Otzar HaSippurim Vol. IV #15 p.29-31, Chodesh BeChodsho Munkacsz Nisan 5757 Vol 37 p52)

Hope you enjoy the new blog, questions and comments are welcome as well as special requests to have specific books and seforim reviewed.

To email or send a review request contact me below, I am happy to recieve by mail new chassidic seforim, publications, magazines, kuntresim and other material as well:

Kol Tuv,
R' Tal Moshe Zwecker
Director Machon Be'er Mayim Chaim
Chassidic Classics in the English Language
Phone: 972-2-992-1218 / Cell: 972-54-842-4725
VoIP: 516-320-6022 / eFax: 1-832-213-3135
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  1. Great Site! Really looking forward to learning more about the history of these great s'forim...Just one thing, I'm using IE8 browser and none of the shortcuts are working for me.


  2. Mazel tov on this valuable new site!

    Regarding the comment of Netzer Chosid, the links are incorrect and have to be changed.
    Also, the lines break up prematurely, so that the text is difficult to read.
    I hope you can fix these technical problems.
    Hanukah sameach.
    Yaacov Dovid Shulman