Dunayivtsi, Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine: Sefer Ha-Tsoref

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Sefer Ha-Tsoref


Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel Tsoref
d. 1633 - 24 Iyar 1720



Deborah Glassman

Here is a translation of the copyists' forewords and postcripts in an eighteenth century copy of a seventeenth century manuscript. It mentions Isaiah haLevi of Dinovets as being the instigator of a plan to copy an important manuscript so it should be preserved for another generation. It also mentions Joshua, the son of Aron of Dinovets who was the first copyist.

Rabbi Isaiah of Dinovets was a student in the first generation of disciples of the Baal Shem Tov and, later, of the Great Maggid of Mezheretch. He was also the author of Zavaat ha Rivash, which passes on sayings and teachings of the Baal Shem Tov (republished by Kehot in NYC in 1982).

The tiny town of Dinovets is here seen interacting with some of the most powerful movers and shakers in Hasidic culture. The Ribash, or Rivash, referred to in the first sentence of the following Foreword, is Rabbi Israel, the Baal Shem who today is most often referred to as the BESHT, that is, Israel the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Hasidic movement. The title chain of this manuscript is traced through the Baal Shem Tov to his only son Hersch (not a Tsaddik) and to Hersch's son Rabbi Aron, mostly called today Rabbi Aron of Titov, but mentioned in this text as living in Kasnitin with the inherited copy of this book.

A copy of this book that was, consequently, in the home of Isaiah haLevi, Rabbi of Dinovets, was subsequently acquired by Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobyl. When the latter died, the different volumes of the book were divided among three of his sons, two of whom had made arrangements to have copied their portions of the 1,400 page document. The copying of the third portion was arranged by the sons' relative, the leader of Lithuanian Hasidim – Rabbi Aron the Great of Karlin.

Because the entire collection of the copied text appeared in the library of Aron the Great of Karlin, and was later found in the records of his descendants, the Stoliner Rebbes (the Stolin Genizah), it was of interest to Wolf Zeev Rabinowitsch, who wrote a history of Lithuanian Hasidim in the 1930s. The collection was ultimately published in English and Hebrew as part of the Pinsk Yiskor Book. This translation varies somewhat from the version offered there.

Foreword by the Copyist

With G-d's help, the words of the first copyist. This is the Sefer HaTsoref, Book of the Refiner of Gold, found in the house of our master, our teacher the Rav Ribash, of righteous and holy memory, and in which the following was written:

This book was composed by the perfect and revered Gaon, through whom the spirit of the Lord spoke and His word was on his lips, the teacher Rabbi Heshel Tsoref from the community of Krakow, who had a different spirit, as it is written: "A pure heart He has created for me," etc.;

and from Heaven he was vouchsafed various wondrous and awesome mysteries, for all of which he provided authority, almost every single one of them being based on a small verse in the Torah, "Hear, 0 Israel!" When you, O reader, see them, G-d willing, in the original hand of the author and when one looks at page 130, he will know from the contents of his manuscript that it is more than human intelligence.

Especially as it is explained how four volumes like these were written about the verse, Hear, 0 Israel! thus far what was written of the author. The father of the author was called Rabbi Yosef, as explained on leaf 400, in the passage beginning with the words "You shall rule," at the end of the passage. There it is explained that the spirit of the Messiah revealed itself in him, as I was told by the talmudic scholar, the teacher Rabbi Shabbethai of Rashkov, may his memory be blessed, on the authority of Ribash, in the following words:

"The year 1648 was the time of grace for the Lord... to create the soul of Messiah." And when, on account of our many iniquities, there was an accusation against Israel, Heaven deliver us, the author took upon himself to compose several books as an act of repentance which he then performed.

This book is the fourth part, as the author wrote in this book several times.

The author was a tsoref, a goldsmith, as he wrote on page 409, see there. And the teacher Rabbi Shabbethai told me that the Ribash had intended to make a copy of it. The Ribash therefore gave it to him to copy out, but in the meantime the Ribash was summoned to heaven, and his son, Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch of blessed memory, came and took this book from his house, until eventually this book came into the hands of the son of Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch, the gaon Rabbi Aharon, may his light shine forth! He agreed with my teacher, Rabbi Yeshayahu Halevi, who was a Maggid in the community of Dinovits, that a copy should be made of this book, when he saw that this precious work was in danger of being lost as the pages were becoming defaced. Then I, a young man sitting at the feet of the righteous, came forward and was ordered by the teacher Rabbi Yeshayahu to copy it out. He also sent me written instructions to copy it out letter by letter.

After the usual greetings, he informed me that, when he was in the community of Kasnitin, he had seen the Sefer Ha-Tsoref in the home of the learned scholar and teacher Rabbi Aharon, the grandson of the Besht, and had spoken with him about making a copy of that book and publishing it. Also, that he had mentioned there that I could copy it out, and that they had agreed that I should live in the house of Rabbi Yeshayahu, both on Sabbaths and on weekdays. For the above-named man had undertaken this in his presence, gladly and most affectionately. A special room had been set aside for the writing, and if I was willing to go there, so much the better. Such were the contents of the letter written by the teacher, the Rav and Maggid, Rabbi Yeshayahu Halevi. For several years from the time of Rabbi Shabbethai of Rashkov, I kept on thinking how I could succeed in carrying out this task of copying it, letter by letter, as I have now done. When I saw the book, I found that it refers from leaf to leaf, so I decided to write it out leaf by leaf. Only, there was too much written on the leaf, so that it was impossible to copy it exactly leaf for leaf, and I therefore chose to transfer all the annotations on the page into the body of the text. Moreover, on every single page I marked off the annotations between two half moons, one like this ( at the beginning, and one like this ) at the end. And where I found yet another handwriting on the page, I marked it off from the first by a sign like this (( at the beginning, and like this )) at the end, to show that it was another handwriting.

Subsequently, I discovered that this was the handwriting of the author's son, as is explained on leaf 230a, see there, and this writing was so old that it was almost effaced. But Heaven granted me the privilege to be its copyist, and with the help of the Lord, Whose loving kindness did not desert me or the learned author, I was given the strength and good eyesight to be able to copy it. Praise be to G-d who by His grace enabled me to see where mortal men cannot see, for the manuscript had been effaced by age. Also, the handwriting was very small, and without G-d's help it would have been impossible to copy it.

But G-d was with me and helped me. I also make grateful mention of Gaon Rabbi Aharon, the grandson of the Besht, who lent me the book to take to my home. For when I saw how great the work was and that the task could not be performed in a day, I was obliged by the pressure of the times to take the book home with me, since I could not be away from my home, for without flour there is no study. Blessed be He that has helped me thus far to copy it; and may the merits of the author, together with the merits of the Rav Ribash and of all the righteous ones who wished to have a copy made of this book, be my support, that I may be of those that worship the Lord with love and awe, according to His will. Such are the words of the first copyist, Yehoshua, the son of the Teacher Aharon of Dinovits, resident in the community of Dinovits.

This book was also in the archives of the holy teacher and Man of G-d, the Rav and Maggid of Chernobyl, of blessed and righteous memory, to whom it was left by his father the Tsaddik who had copied it from the text that he found written in the house of the Tsaddik Rabbi Yeshayahu Halevi of Dinovits; and after his death it was divided up by lots between three of his sons, since it was bound in three parts, the middle part being as large as both the first and last together. It was agreed between them that, if one of the sons wished to have it copied out for himself, then the other two would give him their parts to be copied.

The first to have a copy made was the renowned teacher Rabbi Aharon, long may he live, the son of the above named Rav, by the copyist Mordekhai the son of Rivka of Kovel. Next came his equally saintly brother, Rabbi Moshe, who had the good fortune to receive by lot the middle part of his father's library; this Moshe had the first and last parts too copied out for himself, also by the above-named copyist, two being better than one. And now the third holy sage to rouse himself was the sons' kinsman, the Rav and Teacher Rabbi Aharon of Karlin, who desired to have a copy of this book made for him, also by the above-named copyist; and since he was their kith and kin, he gladly, with their permission placed this holy book in his library at the disposal of that copyist who lives here in Chernobyl.

Moreover, since the middle part as divided up by lot among the brothers, may their righteousness protect us! contains twice as many pages as the other parts, as can be seen from its thickness, and since it is hard to carry, the copyist divided it into two – the first time in the copy of the renowned teacher Rabbi Aharon, and again now, making twice altogether. All the parts appear pleasingly equal in size and evoke the admiration of all beholders for the excellent work, since they are all almost the same in shape and size and all together contain the pure teaching of the Lord, for they all form parts of one whole. By the merits of the author, may it speedily be granted us to say "Behold, this is our G-d! And may the reader walk in the straight path and comprehend the words rightly.”

Postscripts by the Copyists

Copyist number 1:

Thus far the manuscript of the author, the gaon and teacher, Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel the son of Rabbi Yosef of Krakow, and I have copied it as I found it and as I have explained at the beginning of the transcript. Therefore this is the end of this copy, which is the second copy, on the fifth day of the week, Portion of the Law Reeh, the 28th of the month Menahem Av, in this year 542 [that is 5542 or secular year 1782], by Yehoshua, the son of the teacher and Rav Rabbi Aharon, may his light shine forth, of Dinovits, resident in the holy community of Dinovits.

Copyist number 2:

And now I, the copyist Mordekhai, the son of Rivka, offer praise to G-d Who has granted me to copy this, the fourth and last part of the Sefer HaTsoref, and has helped me to complete it. I trust that G-d will raise me up and again have mercy on me and speedily deliver us; and that the merit of the author will powerfully protect us, that we may not be found wanting in anything, for this book was divided into four parts on account of its size and thickness. May the merit of the author be with us forever, that this book may be among the books of the righteous whose names are enshrined in this book; and we and our children and our children's children will worship the Lord and keep His commandments and laws and cleave to Him, Blessed Be He.

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  • Last Modified: 05-16-2012

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