Soul of Hope, The
The Soul of Hope; An Epic Tale of the Baal Shem Tov by Doug Lipman (originally 2 audiocassettes) Self-produced,1998. Now available as a CD 29.95 US + Shipping; and MP3 15.90 US
Have you heard the story of the Rabbi who knew where to go in the forest, how to light the ritual fire, what prayers to say, so that his prayers would be heard and accepted by God? When he died his successor knew where to go, and how to light the fire, but did not know the words, but God said, It is enough. The next rabbi knew where to go, but not how to light the fire, but it was enough. The next man did not know where fire was, or the words to say, but he knew the story of the original rabbi, and the story was enough.
From that small story, familiar to most tellers, Lipman has created an epic tale of the Baal Shem Tov, the great Jewish mystic who was the founder of the Hasidic movement.
It begins in 1690, when a man, Eliezer, prayed to the Master of the Universe, saying that in spite of all of the decades of persecutions, he believed that the Jews could survive if they did not despair. His prayer was for God to send something that would make it easier to hope. In response, a soul whose brightness shone from one end of heaven to the other was chosen to be born.
What follows is the brilliant building of the story of the eventual birth of the Baal Shem Tov, his life, learning, and eventual death. It portrays his trials, and human error, and his grad ual realization of the role that he must play in seeking to make the world ready for the arrival of the Messiah. When he dies, he has rediscovered, reclaimed, four of the great sparks necessary to achieve this end. But just as the story has allowed us to be with him as the four sparks were discovered and treasured, so it carries us along as we see them lost, one by one in succeeding generations. Throughout all of this, playing a key role, is the one chosen by God to be the Adversary, the Satan. Lipman takes the time necessary to develop the richness and the simplicity of the story. He uses music judiciously throughout, and manages to capture the joy and wonder of the Baal Shem Tov while maintaining an overall solemnity in keeping with the epic nature of the tale. What struck me, in addition to the wholeness of the story, was its universality.
This is a story which speaks to Jew and Gentile, to any listener who has sought and questioned, erred and succeeded, stayed alone in the darkness, then emerged to tell the story, whatever that story might be. In the opening of the tape, Lipman imagines a conversation with the Baal Shem Tov in which he says, “I am not the storyteller you deserve..." He does himself a disservice. I think that he is exactly the storyteller the Baal Shem Tov deserves, and that it is no coincidence that he is the teller who has created this tape.
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The Second Story Review, Vol 3, No. 2, June 1998