Seeker of Unity
(Vallentine Mitchell, 25/-)
The “Seeker” was Rabbi Aaron of Starosselje, and it was God’s Unity within the universe that he sought. Aaron of Starosselje lived about 150 years ago, and was the favourite disciple of Schneur Zalman of Liady, the founder of Habad Hasidism. Aaron’s main contribution to Habad philosophy was in developing Schneur Zalman’s ideas and carrying them to their logical conclusion.
Dr. Jacobs presents Aaron’s complex ideas as simply as the subject allows. The main problem which he had to solve, as all the mystics before him, was how the finite, material world could issue from the infinite, the En Soph. Aaron explained the difficulty by the idea, repeatedly stressed in his works, that there was a difference between “God’s point of view” and “Man’s point of view”. Only from Man’s point of view is there a difference between the Infinite and the material world. Man’s aim is to achieve a Unity between the two through contemplation, prayer and ritual observance.
The dryness of Louis Jacobs’ exposition is relieved by the inclusion of some of the parables and similes which the Hasidic masters used to clarify their thoughts. Two chapters also explain the mystic concepts of the Sephiroth and Tzimtzum (which are relevant since Aaron gives original interpretations of these concepts in his writings.)
Aaron of Starosselje is regarded as a panentheist or acosmist—and in this presentation of his life and work we are once again indebted to Louis Jacobs for producing a valuable work on Habad (Lubavitch) philosophy. It is a far cry from the time when, labouring under the influence of nineteenth-century rationalism, Jewish scholars including the famous Jewish historian Graetz, vilified Hasidism and Jewish Mysticism. This work will provide a fascinating insight into these twin worlds for those who are prepared to exert a minimum of effort in the mastery of the technical terms involved.
MICHAEL H. NEWMAN.