Reb Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chornobyl
Reb Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl (1730-1787) was one of the first leaders of the modern Hasidic movement that rose in the eighteenth century between Russia, Poland, and Ukraine.
As to hint at his role as a spiritual teacher in the ‘Hasidic vein, his first name, Menachem Nachum, means twice ‘consolation’: menachem is the one who consoles.
But Reb Nachum, as his disciples called him, is mostly known today as the Meor Einayim (‘the light of the eyes’) from the title of his most famous book.
Reb Nachum started as a student of the founder of modern Hasidut, the Baal Shem Tov, and later became a student of his successor, the Magid of Mezeritch.
He then became the religious leader of the town of Chornobyl (present-day Ukraine), an active center of Jewish life at the time.
Reb Nachum started the great Hasidic dynasty of Chornobyl, followed by his son, rabbi Mordechai Twersky of Chornobyl.
After the Shoah, their surviving descendants, the Twersky, have mostly settled in the United States but also in Israel.
Although he is one of the most prominent Hasidic masters, little is known about reb Nachum’s biography.
What we know is that, contrary to the idea some have about Hasidim being more charismatic and less educated than their Haredi peers, reb Nachum came from an educated background.
Born to a rabbinic family, he was orphaned as a child by his father. Still, thanks to the guidance of his uncle, he received serious education in the traditional Yeshivot (the traditional Jewish educational institutions) of Lithuania.
He decided to become a Hasid when he met the Baal Shem Tov. He joined his other disciples, and after his death, he became a student of the Baal Shem tov’s successor, the Magid of Mezrich.
Although Reb Nachum’s writings were published after his death, by contrast with other Hasidic teachers such as the Baal Shem Tov or rabbi Nachman, who left their students to this task, reb Nachum himself put his teachings into writing.
Each of his two books represents a different direction of his own interest as a spiritual teacher.
Ismach Lev (the heart will rejoice) is a compilation of his reflections on Talmudic Aggadah.
And Meor Einayim (light of the eyes) is a compilation of the drashot (commentaries), he wrote on the Chumash (Pentateuque, the five books of Moses). It was later edited by his student Eliahu after his death.
In typical Hasidic fashion, the Meor Einayim draws from the main classical sources of traditional Jewish wisdom.
On the one hand, traditional commentaries on the Bible, the Mishna, and Talmudic treatises. And on the other hand, mystical Kabbala commentaries such as the Zohar.
In reading the Parashat Hashavuah (the weekly Torah portion), reb Nachum develops themes that are central to the Hasidic ethos.
For example, the importance of paying attention to the divine presence within us, or the meaning of falling only to rise up better.
Another core theme deals with finding the appropriate balance between loving-kindness (Hesed) and rigor (Gevurah), a subject central in all branches of Jewish mysticism.
After it was first published, the Meor Einayim was greatly praised by other Hasidic teachers of the time.
Reb Yitzhak Levi of Berditchev was quoted saying that: “all its words are words of the living god, arousing the human soul to rise upward’
The Meor Einayim was made available to the English-speaking reader through the excellent commented translation of Rabbi Prof. Art Green.
One of reb Nachum’s descendants, rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky, was a famous spiritual teacher, and physician, and therapist.