1... The first person to introduce the shining light of the Baal Shem Tov’s Torah to the counties of Mohilev, Minsk, Vitebsk (in those days the county seat was the city of Polotzk), and Czernigov in the province of White Russia, was the young scholar, outstanding in Torah and fear of Heaven, possessed of superior intellect, named Reb Mordechai, who was born in the village of Bayev, in Mohilev County.

For certain reasons, he was compelled to travel through the region of Polnoye, south of Kiev. There, he learned that a gaon, tzaddik, and miracle-worker lived nearby, known throughout the region as the “Baal Shem Tov.” Since Reb Mordechai had immersed himself in the study of Kabbalah, and found some difficulty in this study, he decided to visit our master the Baal Shem Tov.

When he arrived at the Baal Shem Tov’s court, he remained for more than two years, very diligently engrossed in the study of both the revealed and mystic aspects of the Torah. He also occupied himself with the avodah of the heart,” which is prayer, and the refinement of his emotional attributes, following the instructions of the Baal Shem Tov in his holy teachings and discourses.

Once, the Baal Shem Tov delivered the teaching: [quoted in our story, on pp. 23-25]....

During those two years, Reb Mordechai was privileged to hear many teachings which issued from the Holy of Hollies, the Baal Shem Tov’s mouth. But the present teaching prompted a revolution in his whole style of avodah. Reb Mordechai had previously been accustomed to fasting every Monday and Thursday, and to engage in self-mortification. But now — having heard this teaching — Reb Mordechai realized that this — fasting and self-torment — was not G‑d’s chosen path. Instead, “You must surely assist him [the body],” so that it may remain healthy and fulfill mitzvos with joy and gladness.

The Baal Shem Tov had said: “One must have mesirus nefesh to do a favor for even a single Jew in material matters, and especially in spiritual matters. A soul descends to this world and lives for seventy or eighty years or more, to do a favor for even a single Jew.”

Through this teaching that Reb Mordechai heard from the Baal Shem Tov, he understood that the time had come for him to return to his birthplace and search carefully for his companions — Reb Chayim Mazierer and Reb Yissachar Dov Kabilniker — with whom he had studied at the yeshivah in Smorgon during their youth. He would then inform them of the new path of serving the Creator (blessed be He) that he had learned.

Reb Mordechai began his travels, and about half a year later arrived in the city of Dubravna. There he met his companion Reb Chayim Mazierer. True to the name by which he was known in Dubravna, Reb Chayim Porush studied Torah by means of self-mortification and fasting, following the lifestyle of the recluses and perushim who flourished in those days.

It is a very long story, and I have written it in its entirety in one of my letters: how Reb Mordechai managed to inspire his companion Reb Chayim, to elevate him, and to instill new life into him. Eventually, he too traveled to visit the Baal Shem Tov and remained there for two years. [Reb Mordechai] did the same with his companion Reb Yissachar Dov Kabilniker2.

These three — Reb Mordechai, Reb Chayim and Reb Yissachar Dov — were the first to implant the Torah of our holy master the Baal Shem Tov in the four White Russian counties of Minsk, Mohilev, Vitebsk (Polotzk), and Czernigov.

This teaching of our most holy master, the Baal Shem Tov, “One must have mesirus nefesh to do a favor for even a single Jew in material matters, and especially in spiritual matters,” elevated many millions of people and set them on the path of Torah and avodah. This holy teaching is the life-force of the whole path of Chassidus: to “have mesirus nefesh when doing a favor for even a single Jew ....”