Breishit: Great Source(s)

The letter [bet] at the beginning of the word [breishit], is an allusion to 2 phenomena, G’d’s largesse on the one hand, His providing us with unlimited potential, whereas man by defining words in the Torah narrows down, limits the potential, in a sense limiting G’d’s input in the physical universe….The oral Torah, i.e., man’s interpretation of the letters of the Torah, imposes limitations on G’d’s largesse. When man defines letters in the written Torah, however broad such a definition may be, it excludes whatever is beyond man’s definition.

…details were added by the oral Torah, by the Rabbis authorized to interpret the Torah, who while doing so contributed to what is known as tzimtzum, self-contraction or self-limitation of the Infinite Light. G’d imposed such a tzimtzum on Himself in order for a finite world to come into existence.

…Whereas prior to our studying the oral Torah G’d had not “shared” any part of the various worlds with His creatures, by allowing, or commanding us to study the Torah, He had consented to man becoming His junior partner.
— from Kedushat Levi, by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, on Breishit.
[transliterations replace Hebrew letters, unavailable here, in the original]

Just this year [2009], Lamba Publications released Kedushat Levi, by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk. This publication of a complete, accessible translation of Kedushat Levi allows English readers to meet the text more directly than has previously been possible.

For an introduction to Levi Yitzchak and Hasidic teaching more generally, Arthur Green provided “The Teachings of the Hasidic Masters” — in Barry Holtz’s Back to the Sources (Simon & Schuster, 1984). To completely understand the masters, Green argues, is a difficult enterprise:

The task that lies before us as readers is a complex one, and it seems best to lay out the requirements in advance. In studying Hasidic sources as moderns, rather than as hasidim, we are engaged in a three- or four-step process, each portion of which must be kept quite distinct from the others if our reading is to be successful. First we must try to become hasidim or, if that sounds overly pretentious, to enter into the intellectual and religious world for which the authors of these texts were writing…. p.368, Holtz

I found Green’s introduction useful (even more useful in real print, with all the pages) — and Back to the Sources is a great reference overall. It’s also worth noting, however, that Munk’s translation is very readable on its own, and I have not found it necessary to grok Hasidism in its entirety in order to glean some powerful insights from Kedushat Levi.

(Most web-based resources I found regarding Levi Yitzchak appeared to be from non-egalitarian sources not inclusive of other views of Judaism. If anyone knows of more inclusive sources, please let me know, and I’ll add some links.)

See Source Materials for additional citations.

Click on the “WeeklyTorah” tag for more resources on the weekly portion throughout the year, or on a portion name for parashah-specific notes. (The series began with Numbers; posts for Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus are being drafted, week-by-week.) You can also zero-in on particular types of “Opening the Book” posts by clicking Language and Translation, Something to Notice, a Path to Follow, or Great Source in the tag cloud.

The “Opening the Book” series is presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group pursuing spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

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Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages, blogs on general stuff a and more Jewish topics at and

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