Nazarene Space

The Wisdom of Ben Sira
The Wisdom of the Original Chasidim
By James Scott Trimm


The Book of Ben Sira recounts to us

32 There is a multitude of hidden things beyond these,
[But] a few of his works I have truly seen;
33 All things has YHWH done,
And to his Chasedim has He given knowledge.
(Sira 43:32-33 HRV)

Then Ben Sira begins a section recounting the Chasidim of the past:

Let me now sing the praises of men of CHESED,
our fathers in their generations.
Elyon apportioned them great glory,
and His greatness from the days of old.
(Sira 44:1-2 HRV)

Ben Sira then recounts the lives of the "men of Chesed" of the Tanak beginning with Enoch the prophet and ending with Simon the Righteous
(Sira 44-50). Finally concluding:

And now bless the Elohim of all,
Who everywhere works great wonders,
who fosters our growth from birth,
And deals with us according to His CHESED.
May He give us gladness of heart,
And may there be peace in our days in Israel,
as in days of old.
May He entrust us to His CHESED
And may he deliver us in our days!
(Sira 50:22-24 HRV)

At this time of the apostasy leading to the Channukah story (175-140 BCE) many who wished to remain true to Torah escaped into the wilderness (1Macc. 1:62-64; 2:29) These refugees became know as the Chassidim (1Macc. 2:41; 7:12-14; 2Macc. 14:6).

While we know little about these Chasidim, they were probably led by a certain Antigones of Soko. The Mishnah says of him:

Antigones of Soko received [Torah] from Simeon the Righteous.
He used to say, “Be not like servants who serve their master
for the sake of wages, but be like servants who serve their
master with no thought of a wage – and let the fear
of Heaven be upon you.”
(m.Avot 1:3)

This might be seen as the root teaching of Chasidism. This parallels the doctrine laid out by Ben Sira (who lived around the same time as Antigones of Soko) and that of the "men of Chesed" saying:

How great is the CHESED of YHWH,
And His forgiveness for those who return to Him!
(Ben Sira 17:29 HRV)

And now bless the Elohim of all,
Who everywhere works great wonders,
who fosters our growth from birth,
And deals with us according to His CHESED.
May He give us gladness of heart,
And may there be peace in our days in Israel,
as in days of old.
May He entrust us to His CHESED
And may he deliver us in our days!
(Sira 50:22-24 HRV)

The Chasidic movement was a "grace" movement, teaching that we:

Be not like servants who serve their master
for the sake of wages, but be like servants who serve their
master with no thought of a wage...

Because:

How great is the CHESED of YHWH,
And His forgiveness for those who return to Him!
(Ben Sira 17:29 HRV)

[He]... deals with us according to His CHESED....
May He entrust us to His CHESED
And may he save us in our days!
(Sira 50:22-24 HRV)

It seems that Antigones of Soko both learned the teaching of Chassidism from Simon the Righteous.


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