I’ve been reading this beautiful book by Elie Wiesel, Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters. And it is just that: stories about Hasidic leaders from the 1700s on. Short sketches, stories, sayings, memories passed on from one to another, sometimes two or three wildly divergent accounts of the same story.
One of the most beautiful things to me about these stories is that they all, in different ways, are about this intense longing for the Messiah. A longing that in itself is enough to give meaning to everything else. A longing that nothing else can replace.
One of my favorite stories so far in the book recounts a story about Rebbe Levi-Yitzhak, who was drawing up his son’s engagement contract:
“The scribe had specified that the marriage was to take place on a certain date in Berditchev. Levi Yitzhak furiously tore the contract to shreds: ‘Berditchev? Why Berditchev? This is what you will write: “The marriage will take place on such a date in Jerusalem, except if the Messiah has not yet come; in which case the ceremony will be performed in Berditchev.””
If that doesn’t make you want to weep like a baby, I don’t know what will.