Meir Abehsera, of blessed memory, was one of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s most extraordinary, colorful Hassidim. His creative genius and charismatic personality touched the hearts of multitudes—in the 1960s and early ‘70s, as a leading lecturer and author of many books in the field of natural medicine and healthy diet; and in subsequent decades, as a uniquely inspirational teacher who brought thousands of young people back to Judaism.

In 1992, he published his magnum opus, a lyrical tour-de-force of a book entitled The Possible Man. When people asked what the book was about, Meir would simply say, with a wry smile, “Shtut d’kedushah”— an elusive concept in Hassidic philosophy that means, roughly translated, “the madness of the holy.” The Rebbe was supportive of the project and its theme and personally contributed to its funding. Long out of print, the book has now been released in a new edition. Here, we present a short excerpt from the book for your enjoyment.

Simcha Gottlieb

I am a smuggler. This has been my trade for years. It is a habit that I have developed in my attempt to understand and to communicate the eternal relevance of the sacred. The quality of communication has been so poor that all messages are either deflected or distorted. Spiritual language has become corrupt. The terminology has been usurped or degraded. It has become embarrassing to use the words which were once our own, but have been defiled in the mouths of shoddy characters. So we are forced to develop a new mode of expression, one that will leap over the heads of our detractors and defy imitation. It is a voice that cannot be duplicated because it speaks in the language of the soul. It is a language that Jewish mystics have called the “madness of the holy.” Its main role is to awaken the stolid mind. It comes with speed to penetrate deep inside the listener until he flutters like a flame. Its wavelength is subtle. Anyone angry or hateful cannot possibly decode such dialogue. The detractors see my mouth forming words but they cannot hear. Even the simplest meaning eludes them. Yet there is nothing magical about this type of speech. In fact, it is just our peculiar manner of speaking, and whoever finds it convoluted has simply lost his sense of wonder.

Smuggler. I call it that frankly only to disarm an accuser from tagging me wrongly with such an appellation. In this context, in the commerce of thoughts, smuggling is an honorable function. It may seem that I speak in an elusive manner, but I am not so complicated.

It is in response to the thickness of exile that I have to let my soul speak the language that pleases it, or else drown in conventions and niceties. In this exile, as in any other, when a Jew speaks, he smuggles wisdom. It is a special flight of the soul, an entente between souls, a madness we use in emergencies when the heart is too dead to listen to reason. To make use of the madness of the holy, one must step out of the limitations of the profane and begin to dance the holy dance, dipping one foot in light and one foot in darkness. As we leap over the dividing line, we smuggle the fallen sparks of exile beneath the soles of our feet.

The smuggler’s art lies latent in every one of us, waiting to be activated. We all use it, if unconsciously, to a degree. Intelligence itself is a smuggler. One of its skills is to convey as much information as possible with a minimum number of words. Often it speaks like a poet who knows not to telegraph the meaning of his words. Intelligence knows the exact place of silence in the verse. It knows when to break the news in an ancient text. Sometimes, a verse speaks more eloquently when it ages. For is it not every good writer’s desire to meet the reader anytime, anywhere?

The ordinary reader often makes the best smuggler. Smuggling is not necessarily a craft practiced by the sophisticated. I would explain to the ordinary person that there is this old locomotive which is parked in a big yard where all trains puff smoke and take on provisions. It is me. I am the locomotive, and I would show him how the boxcars behind me are loaded with wounds and scars and all the faults that I have learned to live with. To achieve at least some small measure of peace as I hear them moaning, I begin to move and let out a blast of my steam whistle to smother their din.

My faults outnumber me. I have become so small by comparison, that without all this freight I would surely look like a mite on the track. But I consider my faults a blessing, as they assist me in diverting the attention of those who wish to do me harm. Because, in truth, this train carries a priceless cargo. I have brought my faults along only to serve as a decoy, to help me make it past the frontier. Had I officially stripped myself of all my defects it would have been impossible for me to make the slightest move. My faults serve as a camouflage. By assuming the colors of the landscape, I am able to fool the customs guards. They search my baggage, but find nothing, for I have disguised my cargo as bags of stones. The guards, crisp and efficient, swagger and wink among themselves, concealing their scorn for this unkempt, unfashionable immigrant. “Let the Jew take his last trip,” they say. But the irony is mine. They think they are sending me off to die; in fact, I have never been so alive. With an absurd and automatic “Much obliged,” I move on.

I address myself to the adult, with the wish that at the same time I will strike a chord with the child who dwells within the adult. The child’s nature is to want to be taken by the fable, though he knows you are keeping a moral or a lesson for the end. But to keep his attention you must be sure that the story’s chain of events flows easily into the moral and that you do not suddenly spell out the lesson too soon, spoiling everything. The child is willing to make himself even more childlike in order to make room for the wonder. He won’t allow his cleverness to interfere until the tale is completed. He knows the code of illusion. He knows it is the time for listening, not for questions.

There is often a moral that emerges in these collected pieces, for there is no tale told by a human that is not replete with morals. However, I have other intentions, very specific intentions to rouse the listener to practice the mitzvah, the deed, without which even the best of thought is a mere clamor of the mind. The deed is designed to test the validity of thought, to pursue and confront every thought and force it to prove itself. It is the special function of deeds to harness themselves to visions and dreams and thus render them possible.

In that sense, the journey I propose is very real. Its road is traveled on foot. The exceptions are those impulsive moments when the soul breaks its fetters and leaps into flight. And even in those moments of rapture, there is control. Eyes will not roll back in their sockets from an overflow of the spirit. The traveler is encouraged to test me, to tap the ground as we proceed.

It is a familiar road, one that I as a Jew have been traveling for thousands of years. Nonetheless, I am still dazed by the sights as if they were new; for the greatest adventure is into the known. It begins and ends with one companion, one book, one G‑d. It is not constant changes of direction or contrived excursions into the unfathomable. For the Jew, adventure is actualization of what already is. Even on the beaten path, there is sufficient room in which to get lost. But familiar though it may be, it is still broad enough to accommodate the infinite.

The Possible Man can be purchased here.