Hebrew Manuscripts : Avodat ha-Levi

Aaron ben Moses, ha-Levi, of Starosielce, 1766-1828

Hebrew Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>The author of the thirteen discourses included in this manuscript is Rabbi Aaron ben Moses Horowitz ha-Levi of Starosielce (1766-1828). He was a senior disciple of the the founder of Habad Hasidism, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lyady (1745-1812). During the lifetime of Rabbi Zalman, Rabbi Aaron had an official role in the former’s court, as a mentor to the older disciples. Upon Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s passing, Rabbi Aaron set up his own court, in which he expounded Rabbi Zalman’s Habad system of Hasidic thought. At this juncture, there was a rivalry between Rabbi Aaron and the eldest son of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, Rabbi Dov Baer (1773-1827), who, during the lifetime of his father, had the official role of mentor to the younger disciples, and who set up his own court, in which he expounded his father's thought. This manuscript was owned by Rabbi Hayyim Jacob ben Samuel Rashal (19th-20th century) [for a discussion of Rashal and manuscripts from his collection see Gaster Hebrew MS 1344]. Works by both Rabbi Aaron and Rabbi Dov Baer are represented in Rashal’s collection, which was established two to three generations after Rabbis Aaron and Dov Baer. By that time, Rabbi Aaron’s court had died out and Rabbi Dov Baer’s line had become normative. The presence, in Rashal’s collection, of works by both authors indicates that, despite the rivalry, their works had been absorbed into the Habad patrimony. These discourses were delivered by Rabbi Aaron to his disciples at various special occasions, in particular Jewish holidays and Shabbats. They deal with standard topics of Habad theology: an understanding of divine transcendence and immanence, divine attributes and their parallels in the human soul, and, despite challenges, the human ability to access the depths of the soul, mature spiritually, transcend the self, and enter into a meaningful relation with various levels of divinity. The discourses in this manuscript can be found, albeit with textual variations, in Rabbi Aaron's Avodat ha-Levi (The work of the Levite) printed in [Lemberg] 1841/2 and Warsaw 1865/6. In one case, the variation is particularly substantial (folios <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(46);return false;'>22b-26b</a>). The discourses have been "checked" (מוגה), i.e. collated and corrected on the basis of an authoritative manuscript, as indicated at the end of each one of them except for the discourse on folios <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(55);return false;'>27a-30b</a>. The corrector jotted down interlinear and marginal corrections plus erased the dates mentioned in the heading of four discourses, the first of which he then changed to 620 (= 1819). For literature on Rabbi Aaron see e.g. Louis Jacobs, Seeker of Unity: The Life and Works of Aaron of Starosselje (London 1966) and Naftali Loewenthal, Communicating the Infinite: The Emergence of the Habad School (London and Chicago 1990).</p>

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