Chassidic Judaism has produced much weighty commentary and scholarship, yet simple folk tales have always been intrinsic to the movement. The Chassidic masters used stories to guide and inform their people and to open their hearts to God. Chassidic tales convey the doctrine of the universal eminence of God, and the message that everything contains a spark of holiness.
At the advent of Chassidism in the 18th century, the Jewish masses of Eastern Europe were downtrodden, destitute and estranged from their leaders. The tales of the Chassidic masters helped to reconnect the leaders with their people.
The tales expressed the faith of ordinary Jewish men and women. In a culture where only knowledge opened doors, they provided a way to God for those who could not devote their lives to study.
The power of Chassidic tales is in their telling. They do not lend themselves well to being read, especially not silently. The tales were handed down by word of mouth, and come to life through the spoken word. The narrator and the listener are both involved in the telling of a Chassidic tale. Just as the tales served to connect the people with their leaders, they also affect the relationship between the listener and the narrator, giving each an important role. With each session the storyteller is free to embellish and improvise. It is this flexibility and spontaneity that gives the tales their unique flavour.
Most Chassidic tales are either about the teachings and the wondrous deeds of the tzaddikim (the righteous great rebbes of the Chassidic movement), or they are stories told by the rebbes themselves. The tales give equal weight to natural and supernatural phenomena. In their world, anything can happen and everything is holy.
Chassidic tales are often appreciated for the universal truths that they present. They tell Jews what they already know, but in ways that shock them into a profound new realisation. They are as captivating and vibrant today as they were when they were first handed down.
In Chassidic tales joy reigns supreme and everything, from the most insignificant person or event to the most exalted, is endowed with a unique meaning and a spark of holiness.