Baal Shem Tov Born (1698)
Elul 18 is the birthday of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism.
Rabbi Israel was born in a small town in Ukraine in 1698. His father, Rabbi Eliezer, who was a member of the secret society of “hidden tzaddikim,” passed away when young Israel was only five years old; his last words to his son were, “Fear nothing but G-d alone. Love every Jew with all your heart and all your soul.”
The young orphan would spend much of his time wandering and meditating in the forests that surrounded his hometown; there, he one day met with one of his father’s compatriots, and eventually joined their society. For many years, he lived disguised as a simple innkeeper and clay-digger, his greatness known only to a very small circle of fellow mystics and disciples. But on his 36th birthday, he was instructed by his master to “reveal” himself and publicly disseminate his teachings.
Drawing from the mystical “soul of Torah,” the Baal Shem Tov (“Master of the Good Name,” as he came to be known) taught about the spark of G-dliness that is to be found in every creation, and about the great love that G-d has for each and every one of His children, scholars and simple folk alike.
He emphasized the importance of joy and simple faith in serving G-d, rather than ascetism. Initially, his teachings encountered fierce opposition from the scholarly elite and established leadership of the Jewish community; but many of those very scholars and communal leaders ended up becoming his devoted disciples.
When Rabbi Israel passed at age 62 on Shavuot of 1760, the movement he founded was well on the way of becoming the most vital force in Jewish life.
Chassidic Movement Founded (1734)
After many years as a member of the society of “hidden tzaddikim”, living under the guise of an ignorant clay-digger, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov was instructed by his masters to reveal himself and begin to publicly disseminate his teachings. This he did on his 36th birthday, Elul 18, 5494 (1734).
1st Chabad Rebbe Born (1745)
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), founder of the “Chabad” branch of Chassidism, was born on Elul 18 of the year 5505 from creation — the 47th birthday of his “spiritual grandfather”, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (Rabbi Schneur Zalman was the disciple of the Baal Shem Tov’s disciple and successor, Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch).