Ba'al Shem Tov
Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, also known by the acronym the Besht, was the founder of the Chassidic movement. Although little first-hand knowledge is known about the Besht, one source states that he spent much of his early years outside the traditional structure of Talmudic education, but did gain much knowledge of Jewish mysticism. He went on to serve as a teacher's assistant, elementary school instructor, and ritual slaughterer.
After spending time
in the Carpathian mountains, he went through a spiritual metamorphosis,
and became an itinerant healer, and after experiencing profound spiritual
illuminations from heavenly teachers, went on to become a charismatic
leader that attracted many of the greatest scholars of the period. This
close following are the only recorders of his teachings, the Besht himself
never authoring a text. His new mystical philosophy placed Kabbalah
and prayer as the center of Jewish observance, through which one could
come to an ecstatic awareness of the Divine Spirit in every aspect of the
world. As the Besht and his followers came soon after the episode of
Shabtai Zvi, they met harsh opposition from traditionalists who feared
another false messianic movement.
The above graphic includes photographs that were provided by VERAfilm archives.