Truth is severe, hard,demanding.
The Baal Shem Tov1 was a greater inspiration to Jews than anyone else in history except the great fathers of the Jewish faith. His view of what it was to be human was highly positive. Every human being was a dwelling place of God and God could be found in even the greatest sinner. The Baal Shem saw goodness everywhere and in everyone, and noone and nothing was separated from God's loving activity. The Jewish Temple had been the traditional centre of Jerusalem, but the Baal Shem established a new centre, the rabbi. Human beings, he maintained, could really be the dwelling place of God. God did not need an earthly temple; he dwelt in the hearts and minds of human beings.
Although the Baal Shem founded the Hasidic movement, his status was greater than that of the movement itself. His reputation was so great that no-one challenged him, except for one man, Rabbi Reb Mcnahem Mendl of Kotzk,2 known as the Kotzker. He opposed the Baal Shem by providing an alternative focus. The Kotzker stressed truth while the Baal Shem stressed love and compassion. Abraham Joshua Heschcl (to whom I owe much of this chapter) in his book A Passion for Truth made clear the tension between the two:
The Baal Shem Tov's intention was to prevent Jewish piety from hardening into mere routine. Yet his path also became a habit, a routine.