'Letters of Light' is a translation of over ninety passages from a well-known Hasidic text, 'Ma'or va-shemesh', consisting of homilies of Kalonymus Kalman Epstein of Krakow, together with a running commentary and analysis by Aryeh Wineman. With remarkable creativity, the Krakow preacher recast biblical episodes and texts through the prism both of the pietistic values of Hasidism, with its accent on the inner life and the Divine innerness of all existence, and of his ongoing wrestling with questions of the primacy of the individual vis-a-vis of the community. The commentary traces the route leading from the Torah text itself through various later sources to the Krakow preacher's own reading of the biblical text, one that often transforms the very tenor of the text he was expounding. Though composed almost two centuries ago, 'Ma'or va-shemesh' comprises an impressive spiritual statement, many aspects of which can speak to our own time and its spiritual strivings.
Kalonymus Kalman ha-Levi Epstein (1753-1823) was the pioneering figure who, against significant opposition, introduced Hasidism to the Jews of Krakow, Poland. The book comprising his homilies, Ma'or va-shemesh, first printed in 1842, became one of the most popular of the Hasidic homily-texts. The author of several books and numerous articles, Aryeh Wineman has combined his life's work, both in education and in the congregational rabbinate, with his pursuit of scholarly interests in the fields of Hebrew literature and Jewish mysticism. His writings include Beyond Appearances - Stories from the Kabbalistic Ethical Writings, Mystic Tales from the Zohar, and The Hasidic Parable.
List of Abbreviations Introduction 1) On the First Book of the Torah (B'rei'shit / Genesis) B'rei'shit The need to go beyond the literal sense of the Torah The Hidden Light The surface meaning of the Torah and the Torah's innerness A longing permeating all existence Two modes of Torah-study The function of Shabbat Humility and the world's sustainability When one person judges another No'ah Noah repaired the animals Lekh-l'kha Go forth! - 'Go to you!' Purity and impurity of motivation As the stars that shine by their own light Vayera The pearl of healing The element of physical desire in intercourse The poles of mercy and justice Hayyei Sarah A person's coming to the tzaddik (holy man) Tol'dot The lure and cooling of appetite Vayetzei Jacob's dream-episode The letters within all that exists Vayishlah Angels The tzaddik: solitude and community Vayeishev The two poles that one must avoid Miketz The tzaddik is oblivious to fame Vayiggash Submission Vay'hi Jacob's final testament and failure 2) On the Second Book of the Torah (Sh'mot / Exodus) Sh'mot Torah and time True worship requires joy The descent of the Divine Moses' fear of losing his humility The bush aflame The infinite Names of God Va'era The basis of Moses' hesitation Bo Humility renewed The meaning of matza (unleavened bread) B'shallah The miracle at the Sea Miriam and the dance at the Sea The meaning of manna Yitro Why did Yitro journey to Moses? A portrait of Moses as a judge The status of the Sinaitic event in context The gate of humility and its recurrence Mishpatim Justice and worship T'rumah Moses as a model of the Tabernacle From each only according to his ability Repentance before and after study T'tzavveh Fellowship and mutuality Kitissa The Seventh Day as a day of renewed existential connection For each soul to know its initial location The veil over Moses' radiant face Vayakhel Exploring the parallel between Creation and the Tabernacle The joy of giving Bezalel and humility P'kudei An accountant of the spirit 3) On the Third Book of the Torah (Vayikra / Leviticus) Vayikra The implications of humankind's uniqueness Every person is as the First Man Tzav The fire to be kept burning upon the altar Sh'mini The inner experience at the core of a cultic act Tazri'a On laws of purity and impurity The affliction of pride and false piety The danger caused by deception M'tzora The sadness that leads to joy and healing Ahare mot Concerning those with whom we share a higher soul-root K'doshim The paradoxical relationship between solitude and community 'Emor The inner meaning of the calendar B'har Satiety B'hukkotai The world's benefit from Torah-learning 4) On the Fourth Book of the Torah (B'midbar / Numbers) B'midbar The need for both Torah-study and prayer Naso Blessing requires love B'ha'alotkha Sadness and the craving for food Sh'lah l'kha God's mercy overrides His anger Korah Aaron, as high priest, maintains his humility Hukkat To each his own: the uniqueness of each person The significance of song Balak The danger in one's imitating another's path Pinhas The longing for the sublime Light that can be fulfilled only with death Mattot Defining one's motivation Mas'ei Cities of Refuge as Cities of Repentance 5) On the Fifth Book of the Torah (D'varim / Deuteronomy) D'varim As the stars of the heavens Va'ethannan The background of Moses' death Prayer in community and solitude 'Eikev The nature of manna R'eih Fellowship as the path to God The need to overcome, and sometimes to strengthen, a sense of self The call to unseat pride within the self Shoftim To judge oneself: internal judges Altars of pride and routine Ki tetzei The beginning of the year: Rosh ha-shanah Amalek Ki tavo The bringing of the first-fruits: thanksgiving must precede fulfillment of appetite Nitzavim What comprises a community in its entirety? The paradox of religious expression Vayeilekh The limits of relying upon one's leader Ha'azinu Fallen, unripe fruit of a tree Zot ha-b'rakhah and Rimze Simhat Torah Our Torah is copied from a supernal Torah Continuity transcending death Glossary of terms Bibliography