Dov Ber of Mezritch
(Dow Ber z Miedzyrzecza) (ca. 1704-1772)
Dov Ber of Mezritch was born in Lukacz in Volhynia to a poor-but
respected-family. Since childhood, he had shown signs of his various
talents and a keen intelligence. As a result, he was taken on as a pupil
by the local rabbi, despite the fact that his father could not afford
to pay for his children's education.
With time, Dov Ber became the best student in Lukacz. Because his
talents quickly surpassed those of his fellow students, he was sent to
study at the yeshiva in Lwow, where he studied several years. He then
became a village teacher and devoted himself to the study of mysticism
and contemplation of nature. He also engaged in ascetic types of
behavior, such as fasting for many days. He eventually became an
itinerant preacher, a magid in Hebrew. His eloquence won the admiration
of his audiences, as did the colorful, evocative parables used in his
Because of his exhausting lifestyle, Dov Ber's health deteriorated.
He went to Baal Shem Tov to be healed by the teacher, who was famous for
working miracles. Dov Ber soon became Baal's loyal follower and said
that it was the Besht (as Baal Shem Tov was also known) who "showed me
the language of the birds and trees, the secrets of the holy and
inspired words, he showed me the writings of the angels and explained
the meaning of the alphabet."
He succeeded his master after his death, leaving Miedzybor, the
hometown of Baal Shem Tov; he chose Miedzyrzec as his seat instead.
Although he was regarded as the leader of the Chasidic movement, thus
giving it a more formal character, he did not merely imitate his master
the Besht passively. He stopped his travels throughout the countryside,
sending others to spread his teachings instead.
Dov Ber had a large number of pupils -
although there were said to be more than three hundred, the names of
only thirty-one are known. They were prepared to leave their homes
behind and spend the rest of their lives listening to his revelations.
Crowds would come to Miedzyrzec, and Dov Ber's fame grew. His weak
health did not allow him to work intensively. He admitted the faithful
only on the Sabbath, spending the rest of the week alone with his
The views Dov Ber expressed towards the end of his life were met
with criticism. He was accused of pantheism and a departure from the
traditional rabbinical school, and of adopting Sephardic prayers.
According to Dov Ber, God filled everything, and it was man's task
to penetrate through the material world to the world of the spirit and
to perceive the spiritual dimension of the material world. Man should
always be joyful and should be above his daily worries by keeping close
to God and by giving oneself over to ecstatic joy. The highest level of
spiritual bliss can only be attained by the tzaddikim-the true Chasidic
leaders whose function is to be an intermediary between man and God.
Dov Ber did not leave any writings; the only written traces of his
life to remain are notes of his teachings taken down by his pupils. It
is clearly thanks to his great intellect that Chasidism became a true
movement, although after his death it no longer remained a unified one.