Light shining behind two trees in forest



Early Chassidism

Chassidism is a Jewish revivalist movement that arose in the mid-seventeenth century in eastern Europe during a period of pessimism in the wake of pogroms and massacres and disillusionment with the Messianic claims of Shabbatai Tzvi. Founded by Israel ben Eliezer (1698-1760), who is known as the Baal Shem Tov (or Besht), the movement arose in northern Podolia in the western Ukraine, a region that was then southeastern Poland; after the Besht's death, the center of the movement moved northward, to Mezhirech in the province of Volhynia, where the Great Maggid Dov Ber (d. 1772), the successor to the Baal Shem Tov, resided. In the next few years, the movement spread rapidly to western Poland, Galicia, Belorussia, and Lithuania, and Chassidic courts were established throughout Europe. Many of these became inherited dynasties, organized around a charismatic spiritual leader: the rebbe or tzaddik [literally, “righteous one”]. Chassidic Judaism is characterized by a strong and comforting faith, exuberant and joyful worship, strict obedience to G‑d's commandments, application of Kabbalistic teachings to human experience and behavior, belief in Divine Providence and the immanence of G-d, constant striving to improve one's character, and love of one's fellow Jews.

“Hasidism began to be active during the 1740s and 1750s within the divided and fragmented framework of a few small congregations. These were connected with each other by a new shared religious consciousness that drew upon mystical experience and on charismatic authority. … The members of these holy societies … delved into the esoteric study of Lurianic Kabbalah and prayed in ecstatic fashion. They adopted the ‘custom of the righteous’ and practiced special devotion. They studied moralistic works and meditated on the unity of G-d. They tended to impose a secluded and ascetic way of life upon their members by ordering them to keep apart from the entire community so as to ‘strip away corporeality’ and achieve the spirit of sanctity. Isolation and separation from the community forged bonds and created mutual friendship among these pious Kabbalists, as they formed special fraternities, seeking to devote all their time to the service of G-d and striving to live with ‘additional sanctity’ and purity. … Members of the circle of the Baal Shem Tov … and his first associates came from these societies. … Leaders with an independent and influential spirituality such as … Rabbi Pinchas of Korycz … and others … practiced the Custom of Righteousness and also brought people from various other circles closer to the new path of Hasidism. … In the 1750s Hasidism gradually expanded its ideological sphere by means of circles of initiates and disciples who … disseminated the religious renewal … in new social organizations around various foci of leadership” [1].

“Some of the cornerstones of the new movement were: that every Jew is beloved by G‑d, even if he or she is unable to relate to Him on an intellectual level; that a Jew can reach spiritual heights even if he does not possess Torah knowledge. One can elevate himself through prayer, joy, and love and fear of G-d; that Divine Providence extends to every minute detail of every occurrence. One consequence is that anything a Jew sees or hears must be a lesson in serving G-d; and that the physical is as much a tool for serving G-d as the spiritual, and the body is not to be afflicted in an effort to become a more spiritual person” [2].


According to kabbalah [that which has been received], the deity is composed of two aspects: G-d as He is in Himself, and G-d in manifestation. The first aspect cannot be comprehended by human minds; it is called Ayin [nothing] or the Ein Sof [the limitless], because it is unknowable. Through a process of emanations, the Ein Sof brings about ten divine powers, the sefirot [spheres, illuminations, dimensions of existence], which are affected by human actions. Man's wicked deeds create an imbalance or flaw in the sefirot, whereas his mitzvot [fulfillment of commandments, good deeds] restore harmony in the sefirot and bring about tikkun [rectification, repair], so that blessings can flow freely [3].

“G-d's first act of Creation was tzimtzum [meaning ‘contraction’] whereby G-d contracted from a portion of the universe to make room for human beings to abide and exert their free will. Into the space vacated by G-d and intended for human beings, G-d emanated a ray of light contained in sacred vessels but the vessels could not contain the powerful light and shattered, releasing sparks of G-d's divine light out into the world. Each spark was captured and trapped in an element of material existence. This explains the disunity and pervasive evil in our world: There was a cataclysmic accident during creation and the world did not unfold according to the Divine plan. The Jewish task is to liberate the divine sparks from the evil holding them prison so that they can reunite with one another in heaven. This process, called Tikkun Olam [the repair of the world] is accomplished through the performance of mitzvot [commandments]; each time a Jew observes a mitzvah, a spark is released and the world undergoes a measure of repair” [4].

The Tzaddik

“The Zaddik's role was to act as a spiritual mentor to his Hasidim, but also, in some instances especially, to pray on their behalf and bring down the divine blessing from above. … [he] is the ‘channel’ through which the divine grace flows from heaven to earth. He can work miracles through his spiritual powers” [5].

“It is the aim of the Zaddik, the true Hassidic Rabbi and teacher, to elevate the simple Jew to heights of piety, considering no one too low to ascend to the higher rungs of faith, piety, devotion and hope. … The Hassidic leaders made use of parables, and of song and dance to make their ideas better understood and to create fellowship among their followers. Their main aim was to elevate spiritually the simple masses and make them appreciate the lofty ideals inherent in Judaism” [6].

“In the case of the great Zaddikim, personal charisma went hand in hand with a noble integrity of faith and deeds” [7].


10 Elul is the yahrzeit of Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz, one of the early followers of the Baal Shem Tov. He was born in Shklov, White Russia (now Belarus), in 1726. His father was Rabbi Avraham Abba Shapiro [or Shapira], the descendant of an illustrious line of Talmudic scholars.

R' Pinchas was thoroughly educated in Torah, Tanach, and Talmud; in addition, he studied the writings of the great medieval Jewish philosophers, as well as mathematics, sciences, and Hebrew grammar. Eventually, however, he “grew tired of philosophy and … began changing his views. He left the area of philosophical speculation and entered into mysticism and kabbalah. He encountered … the Zohar and became deeply attached to it for the rest of his life” [7a].

He married early and was a schoolteacher for a time. When his father was falsely accused of a crime, the family was forced to escape from Shklov, and they eventually settled in Miropol in Volhynia, the westernmost province of the Ukraine (at that time, eastern Poland). While living there, his father, who had been a firm opponent of Chassidism, visited the Baal Shem Tov and decided to join the new movement. He encouraged his son, R' Pinchas, to become a follower of the Baal Shem Tov as well.

R' Pinchas established himself in Koretz in Volhynia, where he gained a reputation as a rabbinic and mystical scholar and was surrounded by his own group of disciples, foremost among whom was R' Raphael of Bershad. They studied the Torah and Zohar, as well as other holy books, for many hours every day and strove to achieve perfect truthfulness and to conquer all traces of vanity. After 20 years in Koretz, R' Pinchas moved to Ostroh in Volhynia. The Baal Shem Tov entrusted him with the education of his grandson, R' Barukh of Mezhibuzh.

R' Pinchas first married Treina, the daughter of Jonah Weill of Slavuta; after her death, he married Yuta. His children were Rabbi Judah Meir of Shepetovka, who married Sarah, daughter of R' Jacob Samson of Shepetovka; Rabbi Moses of Slavuta, who married Rachel, the daughter of a rabbinical judge in Prague; Rabbi Jacob Samson of Zaslaw, who married a daughter of Rabbi Dov of Zaslaw; Rabbi Ezekiel of Ostrog, who married a daughter of Joseph of Polonne; Rabbi Elijah, who married a daughter of Joseph of Wanisnowiec; and Rezel (or Sarah) Sheindel, who married Rabbi Samuel of Koniow, Kolinblat, and Zwenigorodka [8]. According to Rabinowicz, Treina was the mother of the first two sons, Meir and Moses, and Yuta was the mother of the other children [9]. R' Pinchas's son Rabbi Moses established a Hebrew printing press in Slavuta, which was later owned by his sons Shmuel Abba and Pinchas. His descendants include Rabbi Yehuda Meir Shapiro of Lublin, the originator of the Daf Yomi program; Hava Shapiro, a writer and diarist; Menachem Mendel Hager, known as the Tzemach Tzaddik, the first rebbe of Vizhnitz; and, reputedly, Moshe Feldenkrais, the developer of a physical therapy method.

In 1791, R' Pinchas set out on a pilgrimage to Safed in Israel; however, shortly after beginning his journey, he became ill. He died in the town of Shepetovka, where his son's father-in-law resided [10]. After his death, most of his followers became the disciples of R' Raphael of Bershad.

(See Part 3 for information on his death and on his gravesite at Shepetovka and Part 6 for photos of his grave.)

Companion of the Baal Shem Tov

Numerous commentators emphasize that R' Pinchas was a companion or friend of the Baal Shem Tov, rather than a disciple. Although the two rebbes met only a few times, they had great admiration for one another.

Etkes contends that, in his early days, R' Pinchas was influenced by R' Yosef Karo's Maggid Meisharim and practiced asceticism and self-mortification. He was transformed by the Baal Shem Tov's teaching that asceticism may damage one's worship of G-d [11].

“According to the traditions relating to R. Phinehas of Korets, R. Phinehas himself testified that ‘from the day that I was with the Besht, G-d helped me toward the truth’” [12].

“Rabbi Pinhas of Koretz … was not one of his disciples in the strict sense of the word, since he is said to have visited the Baal Shem only twice, the second time during the last days of his life [and the Baal Shem Tov came to visit him twice, as well]. Apparently his contacts with Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer did not bring about any fundamental change in his views, but only confirmed and strengthened them. … [he was] more of a companion than … a disciple” [13].

Weiss points out that R' Pinchas of Koretz met the Baal Shem Tov only two or three times; thus, this “radical religious enthusiast” can hardly be called a disciple. He is better described as a colleague who shared with the Baal Shem Tov some basic concepts, such as the immanence of G-d and the goal of devekuth [perpetual communion with G-d] for every Jew [14]. Weiss also asserts that the teachings of R' Pinchas do not seem to be derived from those of the Baal Shem Tov and that he appears, instead, to be “one of a number of exponents of a wild popular pantheism current in the Ukraine” [15].

“A number of the Besht's followers were greater scholars than he was … [s]ome of them, like R. Phineas Shapiro of Koretz …, never actually became disciples although they were clearly influenced by the master's teachings. … What attracted them … was not his ability to impart book knowledge, but his religious understanding. … [B]y telling them parables or fables, he enabled them to gain new understanding, particularly of Kabbalah, and to see its relevance for their own existential situations” [16].

The Baal Shem Tov is reported to have said about R' Pinchas, “a soul such as that of R' Pinchas comes down to this world only once in 500 years” [17].

Leoni recounts that once, “when R. Pinchas visited the Ba'al Shem Tov, he became ill. The Ba'al Shem Tov called a doctor to perform some bloodletting. He told the doctor that it would be best to withdraw the first amount of blood from the location where it was needed, but if not, the Ba'al Shem Tov would be prepared to place his finger on the spot of the bloodletting so that his own blood would come out rather than R. Pinchas' blood, because R. Pinchas' blood was very precious and had been conserved from the Six Days of Creation.

“The legend emphasizes that the Ba'al Shem Tov claimed that from the moment that R. Pinchas' star started shining in the heavens of Hassidism, his own light [began] to dim. During a return visit by the Ba'al Shem Tov to R. Pinchas, he told R. Pinchas, ‘In my youth, I felt that when I raised my hands, worlds would move. Now I do not feel it.’ It is also recounted that before the death of the Ba'al Shem Tov, R. Yaakov of Anapoli asked him about the virtues of all the disciples. He answered him about each one, and when … asked about R. Pinchas, he replied, ‘Please do not ask about such a great and holy man such as him’” [17a].

Leoni continues: “Nevertheless, the relationship between R. Pinchas and the Ba'al Shem Tov was a ‘chain of ice,’ i.e., … it was actually chilly because the sources of their souls were different and in opposition to each other. It is said that the soul of the Ba'al Shem Tov ‘was one of those souls that fled and escaped from Adam before the sin of the Tree of Knowledge and had not experienced the taste of sin at all.’ He was completely a mystery, a legend. His opposite, R. Pinchas, was a rationalist. And this is the reason why the Ba'al Shem Tov rather than R. Pinchas had the privilege of being so beloved by the people and to be its spiritual shepherd. R. Pinchas was much deeper, much richer in knowledge in Torah and wisdom than the Ba'al Shem Tov, [but] the people were attracted to mysteries because of longing for the world of legend and the romance of life. This rationalist nature is what separated R. Pinchas from the simple folk and prevented the masses from knowing about him” [17b].

When the Baal Shem Tov was dying, he said, somewhat cryptically: “The bear [i.e., Rabbi Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezhirichi] is in the woods and Pinchas is a sage [referring to R. Pinchas Koriczer]” [18].

“In a series of biographical studies, Heschel [in The Circle of the Baal Shem Tov: Studies in Hasidism] … on the basis of Shivhei haBesht [In Praise of the Besht] and other sources [calls] for re-evaluation of R. Phinehas of Korets … and others, and the complex pattern of their relations with the Besht. It is clear that they were not merely ‘disciples’ humbling themselves before their master and ‘sitting in the dust of his feet to drink in his words with thirst’ but charismatic figures in their own right, charged with enormous spiritual power and claiming the same freedom of access to the upper worlds as the Besht himself” [19].

“In one most significant respect, [R' Pinchas] … even leaves the teachings of the Baal Shem: he sets out to accomplish the ‘change of something into nothing’ by returning to the way of ascetic solitude. Accordingly, he neither associates with the people at large, like the Baal Shem, nor with disciples, like the Baal Shem and the Great Maggid. … Although in his mention of the Baal Shem he does not designate him as his teacher, he and his school give important data about the Baal Shem and cite important utterances of his, for which we have no other source, and which therefore probably go back to oral transmission” [20].

“Brilliant and humble but a fierce individualist, Rebbe Pinhas of Koretz was intent on finding his own path rather than following a Master—any Master. That is what kept him from declaring himself the Baal Shem's disciple, though he was and remained his friend” [21].

Guardian and Teacher of the Baal Shem Tov's Grandson

As evidence of the Baal Shem Tov's high regard for R' Pinchas, he entrusted R' Pinchas with his grandson's religious education.

“At the time of the Baal Shem Tov's death, Reb Pinchos of Korets and Rabbi Jacob Joseph of Polonoye, two of the Baal Shem Tov's closest disciples, reported to the Hasidim that the Baal Shem Tov had designated Reb Boruch as his successor, and instructed Reb Pinchos to take responsibility to carry out those wishes. Reb Boruch was only seven at the time of his grandfather's death, and was raised in Reb Pinchos' home, where the Baal Shem Tov's other close disciples and other leaders of the Hasidic movement visited regularly to check on his progress and assist with his preparation to assume his grandfather's mantle. Reb Boruch remained with Reb Pinchos of Korets until the Chevraya Kadisha [Holy Brotherhood], as the close inner circle of disciples of the Baal Shem Tov was known, felt that he was ready to become a Rebbe and return to Mezhbizh” [22].

“When little Barukh was seven, he realized that his grandfather was no more, and he began to weep bitterly. R. Pinkhas of Koretz was perhaps touched more by the crying of the little boy than by the Besht's demise. Little Barukh was taken, for a short time, to Mezritch where his traditional education was begun under the guidance of his grandfather's successor. But the small-sized R. Pinkhas, who was residing in Ostrah in those days, could not forget little Barukh's crying, and he had him brought to his house, showering him with love and affection while leading him into the realms of Jewish spirituality” [23].

“Both the ‘Maggid,’ R' Dov Ber of Mezritzch, and the famed tzaddik, R' Pinchus of Koritz, great tzaddikim in their own right, remarked about the young R' Baruch: He is truly amazing—something special! Once, R' Pinchus summoned a few of his students. ‘I have told you,’ he said, ‘that the lad Baruch is very special. Now let me show you something.’ He proceeded to take them to his room, where the young boy lay asleep in his bed. ‘Watch this,’ said R' Pinchus, covering the mezuzah with his hand. The young Baruch began to toss back and forth under his covers. When R' Pinchus removed his hand, he stopped. Again he covered over the mezuzah with his hand, and again the boy tossed. When the hand was removed, he slept peacefully. ‘This,’ said R' Pinchus, ‘is the sleep of the holy. Even as they lay asleep in their beds, they do not detach themselves from Hashem’” [24].

A controversy among Wikipedia contributors on whether Baruch should be considered a disciple of his grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, or of his tutor, R' Pinchas of Koretz, is delineated at Wikipedia [25].

Differences with the Maggid of Mezhirech

In the period after the death of the Baal Shem Tov, the leadership of the new movement passed to Dov Ber, the Great Maggid, but R' Pinchas did not join his circle.

According to Wiesel, R' Pinchas was asked by his peers to be a mediator in the power struggle between R' Dov Ber of Mezhirech and R' Yaakov-Yosseph of Polnoye that followed in the wake of the Baal Shem Tov's passing. Although it appears that R' Pinchas favored R' Yaakov-Yosseph, he refused to take sides openly [26].

“Rebbe Pinhas, a profoundly humble man, never aspired to the throne; Rebbe Yaakov-Yosseph did. It seems that at first Rebbe Pinhas even supported him. Against the Maggid” [27].

R' Pinchas regarded R' Yaakov-Yosseph's writings as “Torah from the Garden of Eden” [28].

“R. Phinehas of Korets explicitly … did not accept the leadership of the Maggid and did not join his circle after the death of the Besht; … the Maggid of Mezhirech, and still more so some of his disciples, rejected the hasidic path taught by R. Phinehas of Korets” [29].

“Pinhas Shapira of Koretz … considered the Besht as [his] spiritual mentor and adopted his directives as a religious system, but did not accept the Maggid's leadership and [was] in fact critical of his ideas” [30].

“R. Pinhas Shapiro of Koretz … is accepted by all Hasidic groups as a founding father of the movement despite his quarrel with the Maggid of Mesirech and the fact that he was more of an associate of the Baal Shem Tov than an actual disciple” [31].

According to Lamm, R' Pinchas of Koretz met the Baal Shem Tov but was primarily a disciple of the Maggid of Mezhirech; however, this assertion conflicts with the views of other authors. Lamm notes that R' Pinchas “left Mezeritch in 1770 because of differences with the Maggid's followers and went his own way in hasidic thought” [32].

“R. Pinchas of Koretz was displeased with the choice of the Maggid. He … felt that R. Yaakov Yosef should have become the new leader. Finally, though, he accepted the leadership of the Maggid, explaining it to R. Yaakov Yosef: ‘Why is the crown of a king now hung on a peg? Since the crown is so great, should it not be placed on the head of an important minister? The answer is that such a person may become haughty and think himself a supreme ruler. Therefore it has been placed on a simple peg, which has no pride. R. Dov Ber has neither pride nor ambition. He sees himself as the lowest of the low; thus, the crown may rest safely upon his head’” [33].

“Although many sources maintain that the Baal Shem's disciple, R. Pinchas of Koretz, never embraced the Maggid as the Baal Shem's successor, these two luminaries profoundly respected each other. When the members of the Maggid's household became sick, R. Pinchas was summoned to pray for them until they recovered” [34].

“One Rosh HaShanah, the Maggid stood by the window of his home gazing outside. When R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk finally asked why he didn't proceed with Kiddush, he replied, ‘What can I do while the prayers of R. Pinchas of Koretz are still piercing the Heavens?’” [35].

“R. Pinchas once asked why the Maggid had so many more students than he did. ‘I'll tell you why,’ replied the Maggid. ‘The Torah portions of Chukas and Balak and Mattos and Maasei are sometimes read separately, sometimes together, depending on the year. But Pinchas, which comes between Balak and Mattos, is always read separately—for Pinchas is a great zealot for truth and it's difficult to join him’” [36].

“Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz wrote a letter to the Maggid of Mezeritch in which he thanked the Maggid for thinking of him. This happened the year after the passing of the Ba'al Shem Tov, and after the Maggid had accepted the leadership of the Chassidic movement, and he stated the exact time that this had occurred, a time at which there was a great distance between the two. Rabbi Pinchas wrote that the thoughts of the Maggid for him strengthen his service of G-d. We see in this story how one tzaddik senses when another thinks of him. This is true dibbuk chaverim, ‘comradeship,’ that was felt amongst all of the pupils of the Ba'al Shem Tov, of whom we explicitly learned that they were able to sense when one thought of another from afar” [37].

R' Pinchas thought that the doctrines of Chassidism, interlaced with kabbalah, were too sublime and esoteric to be publicized to the masses; he felt that they should be revealed only to a select few. He was especially opposed to the practice of the Great Maggid's disciples to disseminate their master's teachings in writing and to circulate manuscripts that might be copied by others. Schochet relates the account of R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi, who was walking in the streets of Mezritch with R' Pinchas when he found, lying in the gutter, two handwritten sheets of paper containing transcriptions of the Maggid's lectures on Chassidus. R' Shneur Zalman, the Alter Rebbe, told R' Pinchas the parable of the prince who became very ill; the only remedy was a potion that could be made by grinding the precious jewels from the king's crown. Even though the cure was not at all certain, the king accepted that it was worthwhile to make the attempt, for a single drop of the potion might save his son's life. R' Pinchas understood the lesson and, from then on, endorsed the Maggid's approach of delivering Chassidic Torah lectures before the multitudes. When the Alter Rebbe later told his master of this conversation, which had occurred while the Maggid was sleeping, his master exclaimed that his life had been saved. He said that he had dreamed that there was a great Heavenly accusation against him and against the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. But then he saw R' Shneur Zalman arguing in his defense, and his teachings were acquitted [38].

Krassen states: “Altshuler has shown that ‘the Maggid’ in question was most likely Yehiel Mikhel” [i.e., the Maggid of Zlotchov, rather than Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch]. He suggests that R' Pinchas “may have been bitter over the loss of some of his disciples to the Maggid of Zlotchov” [39].

R' Pinchas's Approach

The approach of R' Pinchas differed from that of the Maggid; instead of focusing on directly seeking spiritual union with G-d, he believed that one could achieve this goal through self-purification and self-nullification.

“[Heschel's] essay on Rabbi Pinhas of Korzec [Koretz] … delineates the idealogical conflict that occurred early in the history of the movement, in which each side claimed that it possessed the true meaning of the Besht's legacy. The Maggid of Miedzyrzecz [Mezeritch] had stressed the centrality of Kabbalah and established devekut [cleaving to G-d] as the highest goal. For him, the awareness that all is G-d would lead man to understand that this world is but so many veils that must be cast aside to enter into the divine embrace. His language is strongly Lurianic, with spiritual ascent beyond time and place the all-consuming goal. For Rabbi Pinhas, on the other hand, the stress is elsewhere. This world is no illusion. It is the place, and now is the time, that man must labor diligently and unremittingly to perfect himself. To escape the world is to violate the Psalmist's admonition that one must first ‘turn from evil’ and only then ‘do good.’ Rabbi Pinhas, who had favored Rabbi Jacob Joseph and not the Maggid as successor to the Besht, emphasized moral virtue and simple faith” [40].

According to Schatz Uffenheimer, “[R. Pinhas's] uniqueness lies in his opposition in principle to the Maggidic doctrine of devequt, from which it would appear that he indirectly supported the doctrine of kavvanot. R. Pinhas, who was an outstanding example of a popular charismatic leader and held a very concrete understanding of the Besht's doctrine, did not view the spiritualistic tendencies of the Maggid in a favorable light, and argued with him concerning these questions. It seems clear from his words that he and his school attributed prayer with devequt … to an explicitly Maggidic doctrine, and that he did not consider this to be the proper interpretation of the doctrine of the Besht” [41].

Schatz Uffenheimer also states: “Among all the Hasidic thinkers during the time of the Maggid, I know of only one zaddiq who … specifically instructed his Hasidim to pray for their livelihood—R. Pinhas of Korets. This demand logically follows from the thrust of his arguments with the Maggid of Mezhirech; R. Pinhas objected to contemplative prayer in principle, and saw the Maggid as the representative par excellence of the dissemination of the doctrine of contemplation and devequt in prayer. There was a controversy between the immediate circle of R. Pinhas and the Hasidim of the Maggid … concerning this matter: ‘Several times I heard him adjure us to pray for our livelihood and other needs, and to believe that G-d would surely fulfill his request! And this is a great mizvah, for thereby he lifts up the Shekhinah’” [42].

“His disciple, R. Raphael, explained the differences in their approaches. There are two ways to serve G-d. The first way is to seize hold of one's evil qualities and crush them, ‘for one who slays the beast reaches prayer and devekut.’ This was the way of R. Pinchas, and it is called, ‘Let Haman be cursed.’ The second way, which was that of R. Shneur Zalman and similar to that of the Maggid, was ever to contemplate the greatness of the Creator and to labor toward devekut, in which process evil would be nullified of itself. This way is called, ‘Let Mordecai be blessed’” [43].

“R. Pinhas did not expound on the secrets of the Torah. He preferred to teach his students honesty and humility rather than yihudim [union] and kavanot [concentration in prayer], believing that the way to the service of G-d is through the purification of one's character. From his students he sought that they first ‘turn away from evil’ and only then ‘do good’” [44].

“In contrast to the Baal Shem and the Great Maggid, no ecstasies are reported of Rabbi Pinhas. Ecstasy wanes into the background and the mystic teachings are reduced to the precept of constant renewal through immersion in nothingness, a doctrine of dying and arising which, however, sponsors also sturdy living in tune with all the things of this earth, and a give-and-take community with one's fellowmen” [45].

“As time went on, R. Pinhas became a very devoted Hasid, but in his own characteristic way: He was not full of thunder and commotion, nor did he display outward excitement; rather, he expressed his faith in an inward yearning for G-d, a kind of integrity, and the highest ethical standards” [46].

R' Pinchas's Place in Early Chassidism

R' Pinchas is considered one of the principal associates of the Baal Shem Tov and a pre-eminent teacher of Chassidic thought.

“Rabbi Pinchas Koritzer was one of the very few rebbes of the time who was venerated not only by Hasidim but also by the greatest rebbes. Each rebbe had his own path and rarely recognized the paths of others. Only a very few—such as … Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk and his brother Zusha, the Seer of Lublin and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev—were recognized by all rebbes as ‘pillars of the world.’ In this group, Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz held a unique position. He was regarded by Hasidim as being on a uniquely exalted level, almost on the level of a ‘rishon’ [early Talmud commentator]; he was seen as being in the rank of the early rebbes, almost on the same level as the Baal Shem Tov” [47].

R' Pinchas was highly esteemed by his contemporaries. “Rabbi Leib, son of Sarah, … is said to have called Rabbi Pinhas the brain of the world” [48]; whereas Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk called R' Pinchas “the heart of the world” [49]. R' Ze'ev of Zhitomir said, “The holy words of Rabbi Pinchas come from the hidden root of knowledge, from a part of the brain yet to be discovered” [50]. Rabbi Isaiah of Dinovitz said, “What we so-called Jews comprehend after six months of mental torment, Rabbi Pinchas grasps in one leap” [51].

“The Shpola Zeyda, who dearly loved R. Pinchas, and who visited him many times in Koretz, described the phenomenon named R. Pinchas in these words: ‘Happy are you, Rabbi Pinchas, that you have a great soul and that the entire world calls you, “the great Rabbi Pinchas.” Even when you sit in your house, you are sitting everywhere in the world. With every word of Torah and wisdom that goes forth from your mouth, you embrace and kiss the whole world’” [51a].

Buber describes R' Pinchas as “a true and original sage. In the period between the Baal Shem and his great-grandson Nahman of Bratzlav, he has no equal in fresh and direct thinking, in daring and vivid expression. What he says often springs from a profound knowledge of the human soul, and it is always spontaneous and great-hearted” [52].

“Withdrawn, reserved, modest, with individualistic tendencies, he refused to be crowned Rebbe [as successor to the Baal Shem Tov]. He held no court, proposed no doctrine, promised no miracles, established no dynasty, declined honors and privileges. … [He was] one of the most human, one of the most gracious and beautiful characters in the Hasidic gallery” [53].

According to Aron, “R. Pinkhas of Koretz was … physically of miniature size and was called admiringly in the diminutive, R. Pinkhasl. But to his followers, he was a spiritual giant, ‘R. Pinkhas the Great!’” [54].

“The holy Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz said: ‘From the Ramban [Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, 1194-1270] until the Ari [Rabbi Isaac Luria, 1534-1572], and from the Ari until the Baal Shem Tov [1698-1760], and from the Baal Shem Tov until me, there were many souls lost in the kelipot [evil forces], with no one to uplift them.’ He also said: ‘From the Ramban until the Ari, and from the Ari until the Baal Shem Tov, and from the Baal Shem Tov until me, there was no one [else] who could ascend to the supernal worlds. And after me, there won't be another, until the coming of the Moshiach [Messiah]’” [55].

“[R' Pinchas's] commentaries reflect the synthesis of a profoundly philosophical mind, and a heart filled with piety, honesty, humility, and a love for every Jew” [56].


Rebbe Raphael of Bershad was born ~1751 (5511 [57]) and died on Sunday 14 January 1827 (15 Tevet [58] 5587) at the age of 76 years [59]. According to the family lore of his descendants, R' Raphael was born in Germany or the Netherlands [this claim is probably erroneous—S.K.S.] and came to Bershad as a young man, before marriage [60].

His father was Rabbi Yaakov Yakili [61] (or Yaakov Yukel [62]) of Bershad, who died ~1766 [63]; his mother was called Faygel [64]. His sons [65] were Rabbi Yitzchok (father of Rabbi Yeshayu), Rabbi Yaakov, and Rabbi Levi (father of Israel “Isrultze”); at least one of the sons took the surname Friedhand, or Friedgant, which means “peace hand.” His daughter married Rabbi Yaakov ben Avraham Wortman [66], who founded the Jewish community of Ternovka [67].

According to Buber, “one cannot consider Rabbi Pinhas apart from his most distinguished disciple, Rafael of Bershad. In the whole history of hasidism, rich in fruitful relationships between master and disciple, there is no other instance of so pure a harmony, of so adequate a continuation of the work. In reading the records, we sometimes hardly know what to ascribe to Pinhas and what to Rafael, and yet we have a number of utterances of the latter which bear the stamp of independent thinking. But more important than his independence is the matter-of-course devotion with which the disciple embodied his master's teachings in his life and—according to tradition—even in his death, which quietly and solemnly sealed the proclamation of the commandment of truth, for which the master had striven for so many years” [68].

R' Raphael's Youth

Rebbe Raphael's father was a Melamed (teacher) who taught the sons of poor Jews living in small villages. He earned a meager living and was able to return home only infrequently to visit his wife and son. When Raphael was only 8 years old (i.e., ~1759), his mother died. Raphael went to live with a Melamed in Bershad and served as the Melamed's helper in teaching the children. Soon afterward, his father's yearning for Torah, “the Rebbe,” and Chassidism inspired him to move to the court of the “Great Maggid,” Rebbe Dov Ber of Mezeritch, successor to the Ba'al Shem Tov. He died in Mezeritch when Raphael was 15 years old (~1766). After his father's death, Raphael stayed a while with relatives, who treated him coldly. Then, the Melamed in Bershad with whom he had earlier lived and worked arranged for him to study at a well-known Yeshiva in Berdichev. When Raphael returned from the Yeshiva (probably at age 18, ~1769), he married the Melamed's daughter. He lived in Bershad among the common folk and taught poor children [68a].

In those days, both Jewish and non-Jewish fishermen paid for the right to fish on the Dokhna River, which flows through Bershad. A group of Jewish millers leased a mill on the same river. Both the fishermen and the millers were very poor because the person who sublet the river and the mill took advantage of them. The fishermen formed a kind of co-operative, and their leader, the spokesman for the fishermen and the millers, turned to R' Raphael, who was his friend and neighbor, and asked him to try to convince the Jewish man who leased the river and the mill from the Puritz (landowner) to bypass the sublessee and instead lease out the river and the mill directly to them. R' Raphael did so, and the Jewish man agreed. The fishermen and the millers then offered to supply R' Raphael with his weekly needs in flour and fish and also a monthly salary. R' Raphael agreed on the condition that he do some work for them [68b].

He also worked as a beadle and gravedigger [69].

As a young man, R' Raphael visited the court of R' Baruch of Medzhibozh, the grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov. Despite his early education by R' Pinchas of Koretz, R' Baruch had an ostentatious and arrogant personality; he even employed a court jester, Herschel Ostropolyer. Although R' Raphael did not actually meet R' Baruch, he observed him from afar and was very disappointed. He expressed his disappointment to a friend in Medzhibozh, and the friend advised him to go to R' Pinchas of Koretz, whose values would be more to R' Raphael's liking. When he met R' Pinchas, he knew he had found his Rebbe [69a].

R' Raphael was very young, “with the first hint of a beard,” when he first met R' Pinchas of Koretz [70].

R' Pinchas called him “Raphaelkeh” [71].

“When Rav Raphael of Barshad, zt”l, first began to search for the ideal way to serve Hashem, he heard that learning the Zohar Hakadosh was a great segulah [action that obtains a divine blessing] for attaining fear of heaven. He therefore began learning a great deal of Zohar. After learning through the whole Zohar, he started the Zohar Chadash. Towards the end of the Zohar Chadash, there is a warning against being like Bil'am, who was a complete fool despite his great knowledge of serving Hashem. Rav Raphael said to himself, ‘If one can know so much and still be a fool, perhaps I should focus instead on Shulchan Aruch so that my study will bring me to action.’ He started learning Shulchan Aruch in depth. When he reached Orach Chaim #231, ‘All of one's acts should be for the sake of heaven,’ he again felt that something was missing. ‘Are all of my actions really l'shem shomayim [for the sake of Heaven]? Perhaps I should spend more time on mussar [morality]!’ he wondered. Rav Raphael therefore added study of the Shelah HaKadosh to his schedule. He was so immersed in the Shelah that he would learn it at every opportunity. He would even take it with him when waking the townsfolk for davening so that he would not waste a single minute. But after a while he again felt as if something was missing. So he traveled to the famous Rav Pinchas of Koretz, zt”l, for advice.

“Rav Raphael poured out his heart. ‘I want to serve Hashem in truth, but everything I have tried has been insufficient.’ He was so distressed that he actually fainted. When he came to, Rav Pinchas said, ‘If you stay with me, you will come to truth.’ Three years later, Rav Raphael dreamed that he was playing cards. Although his hand started out with black cards, they all turned white in the end. When he shared his dream with Rav Pinchas, he was given a powerful interpretation. “Your dream is like the Gemara in Beitzah 10b, about one who designated black birds and found white ones instead. When you first came to me, you were blackened with worry and stringencies, and this prevented you from serving Hashem in truth. But now you are white with virtue and purity!” [72].

The following story is told in the Imrei Pinchas HaShalem: Rabbi Pinchas immediately recognized the character of Rabbi Raphael of Bershad, who was then a young yeshiva student. “Come see how great is the strength of truth in my Raphael. He used to smoke tobacco that was prohibited by government decree. Once a government functionary met him and asked: ‘Jew, what tobacco are you smoking?’ Rabbi Raphael told him the truth, although he knew that he was putting himself in danger. The functionary said to him: ‘Since you have confessed, you will not be punished’” [72a].

Gurlitz, in Parashat Pinchas, embellishes the story, which he says R' Pinchas himself told, in praise of his student:

“‘Come, see the strength of the character trait of truthfulness in my Raphael!’

“Once, when he was traveling, the police officers patrolling in the area stopped him to check for smuggled goods. At that moment, Rabbi Raphael had a package of imported tobacco for which the customs tax had not been paid.

“‘Jew!’ cried a policeman, ‘Are you carrying contraband merchandise?’

“‘Yes,’ Rabbi Raphael immediately replied, so that he would not be dishonest before G‑d, and he took the pouch of tobacco out of his breast pocket.

“The police officer, who had never met anyone like this before, was astonished at the forthright reply, and he responded:

“‘That's all right, you confessed it yourself. You are free to go. Go in peace!’” [72b].

Why did Rabbi Raphael smoke contraband tobacco? I.P. Weisz offers the following explanation: As a young man, Rabbi Raphael would customarily fast from one Shabbos to another, and he felt extremely weak. Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz told him to discontinue this ascetic practice. But one day, as Rabbi Raphael began to eat food again, he was disturbed that he took pleasure in its taste. Rabbi Pinchas took out a flask of alcohol and made him take a sip, and Rabbi Raphael lost the taste of the food. Smoking was, perhaps, a sort of compensation for him, and he therefore desired [imported] tobacco of good quality [72c].

R' Raphael's Character

R' Pinchas highly esteemed the character and devotion of his disciple, R' Raphael; in upholding the ideals of honesty and humility throughout his life, R' Raphael personified the teachings of his master.

Rabbi Benjamin Wolf Halevy quoted the words of R' Pinchas, his master: “No one can appreciate how deep is the brain of my Disciple, Raphael Bershider. ... G-d will thank me for giving him such a Raphael. ... I cannot guarantee that anyone I praise will not become spoiled with the exception of my Raphael” [73].

According to R' Aryeh Leib Schochet in Sefer Likutim Yekarim, R' Pinchas of Koritz related how the Baal Shem Tov said that if he is not rewarded for any of his own deeds on earth and is just rewarded for having produced a person such as his student, R' Yaakov of Polnoye, that reward would certainly be enough. R' Pinchas continued, in the same vein, that if G-d were to not reward him for his own deeds and would only reward him for having produced a student like R' Refoel of Bershid, that reward would be enough [73a].

“R. Raphael was not simply pious and very humble, but piety and humility personified. Many adherents followed in his footsteps in various parts of Podolyah. To utter even a white lie, or to do anything that is a fraction of deviation from humility, was considered, among Bershder Hassidim, the most unpardonable transgression, as was the slightest show of pride. ... It is related that R. Raphael of Bershad never accepted any gifts from his followers. He refused to sit in the pew nearest to the Torah Ark, a seat usually reserved for the Rabbi in every Synagogue. On the contrary, he prayed near the exit where were standing the water-carriers, the wood-choppers and the others who could not afford to buy seats for themselves. This was not done by Raphael as a lesson in behavior, because any form of show was considered by the Bershader a cardinal sin, but as a result of R. Raphael's conviction that his own prayers might have a slight chance to reach the Gates of Heaven if taken aloft by the prayers of those with broken hearts, caused by various day-to-day hardships. When eating, R. Raphael never bent down to the plate [which would indicate overeagerness for food], but brought the spoon to his mouth; and he never sat at the oven to warm himself, believing that warmth causes sluggishness. He was against talking when there was no reason for it and explained that, ‘Those who talk a lot eventually tell lies. Avoid unnecessary talk, so you will avoid the untruth. In his prayers, every one should insert a special plea that the Almighty lead him in the Path of Truth’” [74].

“The Bershider refused to accept any dictate involving dignity if it ran counter to his sense of lowliness. He dressed with exceeding plainness; he stood in the synagogue behind the door; he would be pleased if he made a mistake in his prayers on behalf of the congregation, since this demeaned his dignity. He never summoned anyone to his home, but walked instead to those whom he wished to see. He bought vegetables himself in the market-place, and smiled at those who thought it undignified” [75].

“Because of [Rebbe Refa'el's] love for the common people, he would identify with them in their behavior, in their way of life, and in their dress. A Chasidic legend relates that Rebbe Refa'el would himself take a chicken to the Shochet and buy everything in the market, just like the common people … he would dress humbly with no fur coat and no handkerchief to wipe his nose” [75a].

“He never sat on the front benches in the Beit Hamidrash, which was known as the ‘old Beit Hamidrash’ or ‘Rebbe Refa'el's Beit Hamidrash.’ His place was behind the stove near the door, where the simple and poor people would sit. According to the legend, once he had to help the Cantor during the Days of Awe, and having to stand near the front bench caused him great anguish. During the Shmoneh Esreh prayer, he would try to finish at the same time as everyone else so that they would not have to wait for him. ‘When people have to wait for me,’ he would say, ‘it is like cutting my flesh to ribbons’” [75b].

“There are stories describing how very humble R' Raphael was, how modest, how he loved peace, his truthfulness, adherence to halacha [Jewish law], and faith. R' Raphael did not wear rabbinical clothing; he dressed the same as ordinary folk. R' Raphael went to the marketplace to purchase his family's needs and he sat in the back row in shul. His household belongings were simple, and he ran from honor” [76].

“His furniture and his utensils were simple, like those of the masses: dishes of clay, wooden spoons, a wooden splint for light or a wick in a bowl of clay with oil” [76a].

“R' Raphael, a follower of R' Pinchas of Koretz, had thousands of followers. He lived and worked among the people, taught young children, encouraged people to do mitzvot, provided tzitzis and tefillin, and oversaw kashrus. He ran from honor, spoke the truth, was humble, distanced himself from the trait of anger, worked to settle disputes and make peace in the home, and did not separate his heart from that of any Jew” [77].

R' Raphael in Old Age

“Avraham Ber Gottlober (1811-1899) relates in his memoirs that Rebbe Refa'el suffered from rheumatism and needed a cane when he walked but didn't use one, out of fear of arrogance” [77a].

“Bershad Chasidim relate that he was very depressed at the end of his life. Chasidic legends tell of changes in his lifestyle at this time, both in the way he dressed and in the way he behaved, but this did not affect his teachings” [77b].

Rebbe Refa'el's approach at the end of his life also changed … His sermons, like those of other Chasidic Rebbes, were mostly seasoned with the rulings and sayings of the Rabbis of the Talmud, but according to his own system” [77c].

According to the family lore of R' Raphael's descendants, R' Pinchas had predicted that R' Raphael would live forever because of his great piety and love of truth. This was widely believed, and the belief was strengthened when, at the age of 70, he grew a third set of teeth [78].

When R' Raphael was old, he lived in Tarashcha in the home of a grandchild [78a]; he died at the age of 76 years [78b].

(See Part 3 for legends about his death and information on his gravesite at Tarashcha, Part 4 for a description of his synagogue in Bershad, and Part 6 for photos of his synagogue and grave.)


During the formative years of Chassidism, the spiritual teachings of R' Pinchas were close to those of the Baal Shem Tov, although they reflected his own independent insights. As the movement grew, the mainstream of Chassidus developed along different lines of thought and practice and placed emphasis on different aspects. Nevertheless, Koretzer/Bershader Chassidus was greatly influential and remains highly respected.

According to Buber, “Rabbi Pinhas' circle had no great influence on the outside world, but such as it is, it represents a unique and invaluable phenomenon, for its members were distinguished by the simple honesty of their personal faith, the unrhetorical telling of the teaching, a telling even tinged with humor, and by their loyal readiness to satisfy the demands put upon them, at the cost of their very lives” [79].

In contrast, H. Lubman states: “Reb Pinchos Koritzer zy”o and his talmidim had a big role in the shaping of Ukrainian Chassidus in general, and his ksovim [manuscripts] were treasured by many tzaddikim, even though most of them were never printed until recently” [80].

R' Pinchas's Circle

R' Pinchas formed his own circle of disciples and students in Koretz and later in Ostroh.

“The Baal Shem Tov instructed a certain group of chassidim that, after his passing, they should choose for themselves a leader who when asked how to rid oneself of the horrible trait of conceit, will respond that he doesn't know. If someone claims to have the solution, it indicates that he doesn't realize that there are still traces of conceit in his heart. After the Baal Shem Tov's passing, this group traveled around asking different tzadikim this question. They all gave various ways that they felt would help people rid themselves of conceit. Finally, they came to R' Pinchos Koritzer and asked him how to get rid of conceit. He replied, ‘I am troubled by this same problem and know no way out.’ And so, they chose Reb Pinchos as their Rebbe” [80a].

“The wisdom of Rabbi Pinhas of Koretz was known throughout the Jewish world. Great and wise sages would come to propose to him their questions in Torah and faith. Sick people from faraway places would come to receive cures for their illness. In spite of this, Rabbi Pinhas' conduct was one of sheer humility. He never raised the idea of building himself a “Bet Midrash” and surrounding himself with flocks of disciples” [81].

“Many people from all walks of life, recognizing the purity of [R' Pinchas's] soul and the intensity of his prayer, became his Chassidim. Numerous outstanding rabbis joined the circle of his disciples” [82].

Among R' Pinchas's most important disciples was Rabbi Shmerl of Verchivka (d. 11/24 or 11/25/1775) [83]. R' Shmerl had been a student of the Baal Shem Tov and was a teacher of R' Raphael of Bershad [84]. His yahrzeit is 2 Kislev 5536, and he is buried in Verchivka (also spelled as Verchovka) [85].

Another disciple was Rabbi Benjamin Ze'ev Wolf Halevy [86] ben Shmuel Segal of Balta (d. 12/3 or 12/4/1822) [87]. He later lived in Safed, Israel, and is buried there. His tombstone states that he was one of the greatest talmidim of R' Pinchas and that his Torah teachings are collected in the Imrei Pinchas HaShalem [88]. His yahrzeit is 20 Kislev 5583 [89].

R' Ze'ev Wolf of Zhitomir (d. 1798 or 1800) [90] was also a major disciple of the Maggid and author of the Or Ha-me'ir [The Burning Light], a major homiletical work. He did not establish a dynasty.

R' Aaron Samuel ben Naftali Hertz Hakohen of Ostrog (1740-1814) [91] was a close friend and study partner of R' Ze'ev Wolf of Zhitomir.

In Gabriel's Palace, Schwartz tells the story of the two friends, Aaron Samuel and Ze'ev Wolf, who were reunited in Koretz after being separated for more than a year, while Aaron Samuel was in Jerusalem and Ze'ev Wolf was studying with the Maggid. Upon seeing one another, they recited the traditional blessing, which thanks G-d for raising the dead. A student questioned R' Pinchas about this strange practice, and R' Pinchas explained that everyone has a unique light in the world above; when two friends meet, their lights are united, and an angel is born. However, that angel can live for only one year; if the friends are separated for a long time, the angel languishes and wastes away. Therefore, when friends meet after more than a year, they say the blessing to revive the angel. As the rebbe finished speaking, they all heard the sound of the rustling of wings and were brushed by a sudden wind, so they knew that the angel had been reborn [92].

As a young man, R' Aryeh Leib (1725-1811), known as the Shpoler Zeide [“grandfather”], was a disciple of Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz [93]. During the period when R' Nachman of Breslov resided in Zlatopol, near Shpola, R' Aryeh Leib became bitterly opposed to R' Nachman, his former friend, and attempted to have his adherents excommunicated.

Another student of R' Pinchas was Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk (1717-1787) [94]. He was also one of the foremost disciples of the Maggid and later wrote one of the principal works on Chassidus, Noam Elimelech [The Pleasures of Elimelech].

“[R' Pinchas] gave instruction in the Kabbalah to only one person, to Schneur Zalman, a man of his own age” [95]. R' Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1813) later founded the Chabad movement and was the author of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, the Likkutei Amarim (known as Tanya), and the Siddur Torah Or.

Rabbi Yudel of Dashev (d. 1838), a great Kabbalist, was a disciple of R' Pinchas before he became a follower of R' Nachman of Breslov [96].

As a young man, R' Uri of Strelisk (d. 1826) visited many Chassidic leaders, including R' Pinchas of Koretz [97]. R' Uri of Strelisk, known as the Seraph [fiery angel], later was a disciple of R' Shlomo of Karlin and of R' Mordechai of Neshchiz. He is the author of Imrei Kadosh.

The older sons of R' Raphael of Bershad, Yaakov/Yakel and Yitzchok, were also disciples of R' Pinchas. R' Pinchas said of R' Yakel: “Of all of the people who travel to me, Yakel is of the world of ‘Tikkun’ (healing the world)” [97a].

R' Pinchas had 10 subsidized students (“Batlanim”); he gave each of them a ruble a week for the sustenance of their families [98].

“The first Husyatiner rebbe, R. Mordechai Shraga (a son of the Rizhner) told the following story. In Berditshev, there lived a Jew named R. Meir Melamed. He was a person of considerable spiritual attainments who experienced divine inspiration. Suddenly, it was revealed to him from heaven that he must seek a rebbe, and that rebbe must be one of the revealed tzaddikim—i.e., a student of the Baal Shem Tov. At that time, R. Pinchas Koritzer had been revealed. R. Meir went to Koritz by foot. When the two met, R. Pinchas said, ‘R. Meir! I would offer you something to eat, but I know your secret: that you fast from one Sabbath to the next. Therefore, I am not offering you anything, for to do so would be disingenuous.’ R. Meir made nothing of this, and he returned to his lodgings. The next day, when R. Meir came to pray in R. Pinchas's kloyz, R. Pinchas told him, ‘R. Meir! I can tell you the dream you had last night. You had a revelation of Eliahu. I can also tell you what Eliahu said to you.’ R. Meir was not impressed by this either. Sensing this, R. Pinchas lost hope of gaining R. Meir as a disciple.

“Although R. Meir remained in Koritz for the Sabbath, during the prayers greeting the Sabbath on Friday evening and later that night at the ceremonial tisch, R. Pinchas did not even have him in mind. But the next morning, after prayers R. Meir went to R. Pinchas and greeted to him, ‘A good Sabbath, rebbe.’ R. Pinchas asked him, ‘When I called you by name without knowing you and also revealed that I know about your week-long fasting, this did not impress you. And the next day, when I told you that Eliahu had revealed himself to you in your dream, you took no notice of that either. And so what did you see in me today that you are calling me “rebbe”?’ R. Meir answered simply, ‘Today, when the rebbe sang Kel Adon, I saw in heaven the ministering angels together with the entire heavenly family singing along and dancing. That is why I call you “rebbe.” I do not want to achieve high attainments and divine inspiration, but a true path in serving the good G-d’” [99].

R' Jacob Samson [Yaakov Shimshon] ben Yitzchak of Shepetovka (d. 5/15/1801) [100] was a disciple of the Maggid of Mezhirech and a follower of Rabbi Baruch of Medzhiboz, as well. He was the community rabbi of Slavuta, Uman, Shepetovka, and Bar before he moved to Tiberias in Israel. His yahrzeit is 3 Sivan 5561.

“Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz … passed away suddenly while in Spitovka [Shepetovka] on a journey to the Holy Land. On the same day, the 10th of Elul 5551 [1791], Rabbi Jacob Samson of Spitovka, who already resided in the Holy Land, saw a vision: The Shekhina, G-d's Majesty, appeared to him in the form of a woman in lamentation; he perceived that her lamentation was for a friend of her youth who had died. Thereupon he awoke and cried with grief: ‘Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz has died!’ He was asked how he knew this. ‘Outside of him,’ he replied, ‘there exists in this day no tzaddik [saintly person] for whom the Shekhina would lament.’ He stood up, made the rent in his garment according to tradition as a sign of his grief, and spoke the blessing of G-d's righteousness. For many days he mourned his passing. After a long time the news came to the Holy Land: Rabbi Pinchas is no more” [101].

R' Raphael's Circle

After the death of R' Pinchas, some of R' Pinchas's followers became R' Raphael's disciples. Their teachings and practices differed from those of mainstream Chassidism in some important respects.

“[R' Raphael] introduced several customs and liturgical elements (“the Bershad liturgy”) that differed from the accepted hasidic style and came closer to the Ashkenazi rite. His followers remained a distinct group after his death, although he had no successor. There are many legends about him, and some of his sayings were published in Midrash Pinhas (1872), most of which is [i.e., at the time this was written] still in manuscript” [102].

Rabbi Gedaliah Rabinowitz notes that R' Raphael and his followers had a special way of davening. Knowledge of their manner of davening has been lost [102a].

“They prayed in a whisper, word by word, with devotion and without excitement or strain” [102b].

“The Bershad Chasidim received from Rebbe Refa'el special versions of the prayers and synagogue customs. They promoted the liturgical poems of El'azar HaKalir (possibly 6th/7th Centuries CE) during the Days of Awe because Rebbe Refa'el said that HaKalir wanted to glorify G-d” [102c].

“There was a Chasidic legend that was widespread in Bershad and its surroundings that the melodies of the prayers at Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur that are known in most of the Diaspora by their heartfelt sadness and their mystery were written by Rebbe Refa'el. Rebbe Pinchas, his Rebbe, appeared to him in a dream after his passing and taught them to Rebbe Refa'el. They are known to this day as ‘Bershad prayer’” [102d].

Huberman writes: “‘Bershad Chasidism’ … had a unique quality, that of trust in G-d as a soul revelation of G-d's grace that is not dependent upon conditions either material or spiritual. ‘When a man experiences troubles,’ Rebbe Refa'el would say, ‘he should trust in G-d's grace lest he stumble. He should do nothing nor attempt any remedy. He should only trust in G-d and he should not even pray to G-d about his troubles or purify himself by immersing himself in ritual baths, and he should not make any arrangements or do other things that are out of the ordinary, only trust in G-d.’ That is perhaps the reason that Bershad Chasidim do not frequently immerse themselves in ritual baths as was accepted from the time of the Ba'al Shem Tov that he achieved supreme realization through ritual immersion. … Rebbe Refa'el saw the essence of Chasidism as the purification of the soul through the acquiring of good moral qualities by distancing oneself from bad moral qualities, the worst of which are falsehood, pride, anger, and arrogance” [102e].

“The Chasidim of Bershad were strict when it came to matters of Tzitzit (fringes) and Talitot (prayer shawls)” [102f].

Huberman writes that, after the death of Rebbe Pinchas, “Rebbe Refa'el's area of activity expanded … Avraham-Ber Gottlober relates in his memoirs that he (Gottlober) was once in Dubossary (on the border of the provinces of Kherson and Bessarabia), running from the authorities, and the Bershad Chasidim helped him when they heard that Rebbe Refa'el was in Starokonstantinov visiting with his (Gottlober's) father” [102g].

According to Klausner, “Rabbi Rephael Bretsher” of Bershad did not establish a dynasty [103]. Rabbi E.E. Frankel also stresses that R' Raphael did not have a “court” [104]. Huberman says: “Rebbe Refa'el did not agree to succeed his Rebbe (Rebbe Pinchas) when he died, and he continued in his wanderings for the rest of his life” [104a].

Rabbi Yeshayahu, a son of R' Raphael's son Rabbi Yitzchok, wrote a tract called the Kuntras of Rabbi Yeshayahu, which includes the Torah teachings that he heard from his grandfather, R' Raphael of Bershad. This contribution is included among the kuntrasim [essays] that comprised Kitvei Bershad [104b]. (See also Part 5, Section A, Sefer Imre Pinhas/Imrei Pinchas HaShalem, for more information on the Kitvei Koretz and Kitvei Bershad.)

Rabbi Shmuel Valtzis [also written as Valsis, Valtsis, Volses, or Voltzis] was a disciple of R' Raphael. He was a very talented writer; he recorded the teachings of R' Raphael [105] and contributed to the Midrash Pinhas [106].

Rabbi Yaakov Shimon, a son of R' Pinchas and a close friend of R' Raphael, became the rabbi of Zaslaw in Volhynia. His yahrzeit is 8 Nisan [107].

Rabbi Benjamin Ze'ev Wolf Halevy of Balta, a disciple of R' Pinchas, was the “best friend” of R' Raphael of Bershad [108] and worked with R' Raphael to record the teachings of R' Pinchas known as the Kitvei Koretz [108a].

Rabbi Avrahamtzi of Kalniblot [Kalnybolota], a son of Rabbi Benjamin Ze'ev of Balta (and also a son-in-law of Rabbi Shmuel of Kalniblot, who was a son-in-law of R' Pinchas) helped Rabbi Shmuel Valtzis to collect, copy, arrange, and edit the Kitvei Bershad. Additionally, he wrote commentaries on the writings of Rabbi Shmuel Valtzis [108b].

Rabbi Ya'akov Wortman of Bosivka, who served as the rabbi of Ternovka, was not only the son-in-law of R' Raphael but also a distinguished disciple [108c]. After R' Raphael died, the Bershad Chassidim tried to make Rabbi Ya'akov his successor, but he humbly refused [108d]. He wrote a kuntras on teachings he had heard from his father-in-law [108e].

Rabbi Gedaliah of Bosivka, another disciple of R' Raphael, wrote one of the kuntrasim of Kitvei Bershad [108f].

Other grandsons of R' Raphael (probably Rabbi Levi Wortman and Isrultze Friedhand) also contributed kuntrasim to the Kitvei Bershad [108g].

Weiss states that the religious ideas of R' Raphael of Bershad are centered around the ideal of truth and lack the mystical and contemplative values of mainstream Chassidism. Weiss considers R' Raphael's connections with Chassidism to have been more “environmental” than doctrinal [109].

Huberman concludes: “The period of Bershad Chasidism starts with Rebbe Refa'el, but it was preceded by the Chasidism of the Ba'al Shem Tov, who, according to Chasidic legend, once visited Bershad. Rebbe Pinchas, the disciple and friend of the Ba'al Shem Tov, followed by Rebbe Refa'el, became known for his understanding of the sorrow of the Jew and his delving into those remote places where Jewish sorrow ponders in isolation. Rebbe Refa'el's moral qualities influenced the … molding of Bershad as … heir to his spiritual possessions, … and they are named after the town: ‘Bershad truthfulness,’ ‘Bershad humility,’ ‘Bershad prayer,’ and even, in the area of handicrafts, ‘Bershad fringes’ and ‘Bershad prayer shawls’” [109a].

“The Chasidism of Bershad distinguished itself by its simplicity, its modesty and its innocence, its level of humility, and its great love for truth. Rebbe Refa'el practised what he preached. He lived a life of simplicity and scarcity, unlike the Chasidic Rebbes of Ruzhin, Talne, and others, who lived lives of splendor and opulence, lives of wealth and luxury, like landowners, living in luxurious palaces and traveling in splendid carriages pulled by prancing horses, wearing the finest silks and using dishes of silver and gold” [109b].

Relations with Other Branches of Chassidism

R' Pinchas of Koretz had warm relations with many members of the Baal Shem Tov's inner circle, despite his differences with the Maggid of Mezeritch. In later years, R' Raphael of Bershad's circle was close to the Breslov group led by R' Nachman, the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, and there are many parallels between the two groups. Like the Breslov faction, R' Pinchas was opposed by R' Yehiel Mikhel of Zlotchov, and R' Raphael was opposed by R' Moshe Tzvi ben Shimon of Savran (1775-1838), a renowned disciple of R' Barukh of Medzhibozh and of R' Levi Itshak of Berdichev [110]. The friction between Savraner Chassidim and the Koretz/Bershad group may shed light on stories about the death of R' Raphael (see Part 3).

“In the beginning, the disciples of the Besht regarded with suspicion the scholarly ‘Lithuanian’ who insisted on his own rigid forms of piety, but the Besht himself considered it a great accomplishment that R. Pinkhas had joined his circle” [111].

“R. Pinhas and his father frequented the Besht's home, but were suspect in the eyes of the other Hasidim: ‘Lithuanians,’ after all, were thought not to have the same spiritual depth and were known to question the holiness of the Besht” [112].

R' Pinchas was supported by R' Isaiah of Dinovitz; R' Nahum of Chernobyl; R' Hayim Krasner [Chaim of Krasna]; R' Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye; the Grandfather of Shpola, R' Aryeh Leib; R' Leib, the son of Sarah; the brothers R' Shmelke of Nikolsburg and R' Pinhas of Frankfurt; R' Jacob Joseph of Ostrog; and R' Elimelech of Lezajsk [113].

“There is a wonderful letter available by Reb Pinchas Koritzer to Reb Shay'ale Dinovitzer who was at a different location having an aliyath han'shamah, a conscious ascent of the soul. In his flight of awareness he wasn't alone. Reb Pinchas accompanied him from a distance and said, ‘on the way up, you did so well, but on the way down, you made a couple of mistakes’” [114].

“R. Pinhas of Koretz … was greatly revered by later Rabbis, including the famous R. Nahman of Braslav” [115].

“Reb Nachman said that there was a period when Reb Pinchas of Koretz was the greatest tzaddik alive in the world!” [116].

According to Huberman: “Rebbe Refa'el went through a difficult period when the grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov, Rebbe Baruch of Medzhibozh (1753-1811), and the great-grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1811), turned Chasidism in a different direction. This change in direction is referred to in the history of Chasidism as the ‘Tzadik Period,’ when the cult of the Tzadik (Chassidic Rebbe) became central, raising the Tzadik above the masses to the extent that Rebbe Baruch had a court jester in the tradition of the Hofnarren of the European nobility. It also introduced anger and sadness into both the worship of G-d and daily life. Rebbe Nachman, who was more humble in his behavior, still raised the Tzadik to the level of Messiah and likened him to G-d” [116a].

“From time to time, there would be anger expressed by Rebbe Refa'el's disciples toward the descendants of the Ba'al Shem Tov, but Rebbe Refa'el would silence them. The behavior of the descendants of the Ba'al Shem Tov was a mystery to him that one should not think about, much less criticize or attack it. A Chasidic legend relates that once one of the people close to him tried to speak in his presence about ‘the Breslover’ (Rebbe Nachman), and Rebbe Refa'el became annoyed and silenced him. Usually, he would warn his disciples to speak softly and pleasantly and be complimentary. This was a gentle hint alluding to Rebbe Baruch of Medzhibozh, who would speak freely about the Chasidic Rebbes of his generation and even about Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, his sister's son” [116b].

“The Koretz and Bershad Torahs are very close to Breslov in many ways, and they are obviously more than superficially connected. … There is a serious misconception floating around about Reb Refoel of Bershad zy”o, implying that he was ch”v [G-d forbid] a misnaged [opponent] to Breslover Chassidim. Its source is an old printed edition of Midrash Pinhas, in which there is a story saying that someone told Reb Refoel something bad about a certain Breslover, and he spit and said ‘Eyn ke-eyle cheylek Yakoyv’ [not like these is Yakov's lot]. It misled some to think that he opposed Breslov. However, that printing of Midrash Pinhas is very inaccurate and was criticized even by the descendants of Reb Pinchos Koritzer. It might have been intentionally altered. In the ksav yad [manuscript], that mayse [story] appeared with a completely opposite resolution: Reb Refoel said ‘Eyn ke-eyle cheylek Yakoyv’ to those who speak loshon hora [slander] about that Breslover” [117].

“The character of Reb Refoel zy”o and his approach to everyday life (pashtus [simplicity], tmimus [sincerity], and bitul [selflessness], his refusal to use rabbonish [rabbinic-style] clothing), etc., reminds me of Reb Noson ztz”l [R' Nathan of Breslov]. (Amazingly, he even had opposition from the same circle as Reb Noson did!) There are also interesting parallels between Reb Nachman zy”o and Reb Pinchos zy”o[118].

Rebbe Nachman [of Breslov]'s praise of R' Pinchas is recorded in Chayey Moharan [Life of Rabbi Nachman]. In Imrei Pinchas HaShalem, it is told that R' Raphael, like R' Noson, was opposed by the Savraner Chassidim. More information on the connections between Breslov and Koretz/Bershad Chassidus can be found in Sefer Shivcho Shel Tsadik [119].

The Appendix to The Human Temple: Religious Interiorization and the Structuring of Inner Life in Early Hasidism, by Margolin, discusses the influence of R' Pinchas of Koretz on R' Nachman of Breslov [120].

R' Pinchas was opposed by some contemporaries, including R' Yehiel Mikhel of Zloczew [Zlotchov], who opposed him because R' Pinchas had established a custom for his disciples to drink a little liquor and a little mead [121].

“It is interesting that the only major Hasidic leader from whom Yehiel Mikhel was estranged was Pinhas of Koretz. The latter was also an early associate of the Ba'al Shem Tov who seems to have supported Jacob Joseph of Polnoy, rather than Dov Ber, as successor to the Hasidic leader. However, the enmity between R. Pinhas and the Maggid of Zlotchov probably originated in a dispute concerning ritual slaughter in Koretz. The dispute involved a son of R. Pinhas and a follower of Yehiel Mikhel. However, Yehiel Mikhel's growing influence as a spiritual master in Koretz seemed to further provoke Rabbi Pinhas who was finally forced to relocate to Ostrog” [122].

“R' Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov z”tl was once very ill. One of his sons [Mordechai] went without his father's knowledge, to ask R' Pinchos Shapiro of Koritz z”tl that he pray for his father's recovery. R' Pinchos said to the son upon his arrival, ‘You are doubtless here about your father. Tell him that if he eats cheese he will recover.’ The son was surprised. R' Pinchos explained: ‘Your father stopped eating cheese as he wished to refrain from worldly pleasures. But the angel appointed over cheese complained that until then, some of the cheese in this world was being utilized in R' Yechiel Michel's service of Hashem, for every morsel he consumes is a spiritual act—similar to the Kohanim eating Kodashim in the Bais HaMikdosh. His every bite is a mitzvah—like eating on Erev Yom Kippur. His illness has come because he abstained from his great mitzvah of eating cheese. If he eats cheese, he will be cured.’ When the son returned, R' Yechiel Michel already knew where he had been. Upon resuming to eat cheese, R' Yechiel Michel was indeed healed” [123].

Another version, told by R' Yissochar Dov of Belz and ascribed to his father-in-law, R' Aharon of Chernobyl, repeats this story and adds the following: “Before Rav Mordechai left, the Rebbe Reb Pinchas Koritzer added: ‘Tell your father that I know that he holds contempt for me in his heart, because he does not see my tefilos [prayers] in Shamayim. But know: that not only does he not see my tefilos, but even the angels and Serafim, who accept tefilos, do not see my tefilos, since I have paved a path for my tefilos straight to the Holy One … But I know that when you tell him this, he will not accept my words. So tell him in my name: “There is nothing that is not hinted to in the Torah.” And he will forgive me if [I ask you to] open up a Gemara Sanhedrin 44a. There it is written: “And Pinchas davened (vayipaleil) and the plague was stopped.” … This teaches that he made davening [only] with the Creator. … This means that the tefilos of Pinchas were hidden from everyone else's eyes, and they were only visible to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, because he made the davening with his Creator, alone.’

“When the holy Rebbe from Kreminitz returned to his father's house, the holy Magid was sitting at his table, learning Torah, while a Gemara Sanhedrin was lying open on the table. When the holy Zlotchover noticed that his son had come, he asked him, ‘Mordechai, were you in Koritz by Reb Pinchas? Don't be afraid. I already know. But tell me what he told you.’ His son answered him by telling him that the reason for his sickness is because he is not eating cheese. The holy Magid answered him, ‘Good. I will accept upon myself to eat cheese. And what else did he tell you?’ The holy Rebbe Reb Mordechai began to tell everything as it happened, that the reason that his father was upset with the Rebbe from Koritz is because he (the Zlotchover) doesn't see his (Reb Pinchas Koritzer's) tefilos. But that he (Reb Pinchas) had dug out a tunnel straight to Hashem for his tefilos, and that he commanded [Mordechai] to request, in his name, that [his father] look into the Gemara … The holy Rebbe Reb Michel got up from his place and said, ‘Right now I am learning these very ideas. Open before me now is the Gemara Sanhedrin 42! I didn't know that he had already reached a level like that.’”

The commentator adds: “A little investigation between the lines of this wondrous teaching will reveal to us a part of the story which is not known among Breslov Chassidim: the author of the Likutei Moharan [R' Nachman of Breslov] hinted at the beginning of his Maamar, in Seif 1, … at the foundation of the dispute between the Tzadikim from Zlotchiv and Koritz, as it is received in the Belz-Chernobyl tradition. This is how that Maamar begins, ‘Every person must say, “The whole world was created only because of me.”’ It [follows] that when the world is created for my sake, I need to see and investigate at every moment regarding the tikun [rectification] of the world and fill in what is missing in the world. These words contain an amazing hint about the complaint of Rav Pinchas Koritzer against the Magid from Zlotchiv, who had stopped repairing the world and filling in what it was lacking with regard to cheese [by not] lifting it up to its root. And in the continuation of that same teaching: ‘One needs to enclothe his tefilah, in order that the angels who stand to the left do not prosecute [against it] …’ These words hint, without question, at the holy words of the Koritzer, who said, in explaining himself, that he had dug for himself a tunnel straight to Hashem, in order that his tefilos not be touched by angels. Therefore, the words of the Tzadikim are true, and trustworthy people proclaim them true together” [124].

Transmission of the Teachings of R' Pinchas and R' Raphael

After the death of R' Pinchas, his disciples, principally R' Raphael of Bershad and Rabbi Benjamin Ze'ev Wolf Halevy of Balta, worked to record some of his teachings in the Kitvei Koretz. After R' Raphael's death, a group of disciples (including Rabbi Shmuel Valtzis, Rabbi Avrahamtzi of Kalniblot, Rabbi Yeshayahu and other grandsons, and Rabbi Ya'akov Wortman of Bosivka, his son-in-law) wrote tracts to record his teachings; these were later collected in the Kitvei Bershad. (See additional information on Kitvei Koretz and Kitvei Bershad above in “R' Pinchas's Circle” and “R' Raphael's Circle” and in Part 5, Section A.)

R' Pinchas did not write any books, but his teachings were widely quoted by other rebbes and compiled as the Midrash Pinhas, Nofeth Tzufim, and Pe'er la-Yesharim. A manuscript that survived the Holocaust was published as the Imrei Pinchas HaShalem in 1988; an enlarged and revised version was published in 2003.

“R. Pinhas's ‘Torah’ is found largely in the form of verbal aphorisms collected by his disciples, Raphael of Bershad, and others and published in the work Midrash Pinhas and similar collections” [125].

“In section 171 of his book, A Memoir of the Great Rabbis of Ostroh, R. Mendel Biber writes ‘While residing in my hometown of Slavita, I the writer used to go almost every Sabbath and holiday to meet the grandson of the Rabbi and honest tzaddik, our teacher R. Pinchas, of blessed memory, from Slavita, and while with him I saw an old manuscript of Torah teachings and divine wisdom of the Rabbi and tzaddik R. Pinchas of Koretz. I examined it repeatedly and saw in it great, amazing and lofty teachings standing at the top of the world from the wisdom of kabbalah and divine inquiry.

“‘They befitted the person who said them. His grandson had a tradition not to allow the manuscript to be printed. However, many parts of those writings already found their way into the hands of outsiders and they deleted and interpolated those writings, ruining the splendor of those holy teachings. They destroyed more than they repaired’” [125a].

“Only a few booklets and small sections of the Torah teachings of R. Pinchas became known in the world. These booklets are:

“a. “Collections from Rabbi R. Pinchas.” This has about one hundred and thirty paragraphs and was published at the back of the book, Ner Yisrael [Candle of Israel] written by the Maggid of Koznitz. This book was published in Vilna from a manuscript belonging to one of the disciples of the Maggid of Koznitz. In 1857, it was reprinted in Chernovitz in a special booklet called Likkutei Shoshanim [Collection of Roses].

“b. Nofet Tsufim [Choice Honey] — printed in Lelov in 1864 together with the book Kodesh Hilulim [Holiness of Praises] containing many statement[s] from R. Pinchas of Koretz. …

“c. Geulat Yisrael [Redemption of Israel]. This is a collection of booklets from various tzaddikim, and has a special one for the Torah teachings of R. Pinchas. This book was printed in Lelov in 1864.

“d. Midrash Pinchas [The Midrash of Pinchas]. This is the main source from where we draw on the wisdom of R. Pinchas” [125b].

“Rebbe Refa'el did not write any books. His teachings and sayings were passed on orally among his disciples and were written down after his death. Among them are the Midrash Pinchas (1873) and a manuscript that has been passed down, from generation to generation, among the Chasidim of Koretz and Bershad and contains the teachings of his Rebbe (Rebbe Pinchas) and his own teachings and sayings. He would mention the name of his Rebbe in awe and reverence, often without referring to him directly, which is common when dealing with matters of holiness” [125c].

“Even before any seforim [books] with his maymorim [treatises] were printed, they were circulating among many tzaddikim and Chassidim in ksav yad [manuscript] and are quoted, for example, in B'nei Yissas'char [by R' Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov]. … Reb Pinchos Koritzer zy”o was one of the greatest talmidim of the Baal Shem Tov hakodosh, and the fact that many Yidden are not so familiar with his teachings can be explained simply by the fact that there are no Koritzer or Bershader Chassidim today who would popularize them. But this recent publication [Imrei Pinchas HaShalem] (organized by descendants of Reb Pinchos) is a great thing, and it makes a difference. Russian and Polish Chassidus has become almost extinct. Today, most Chassidus is Hungarian and Romanian. Among Russian Chassidim, only Breslov, Lubavitch, and Karlin are left” [126].

© 2017 Susan K. Steeble | | All rights reserved

Tombstone of R Pinchas of Koretz   Tombstone of R Raphael of Bershad