We have a tradition of dope smoking in chassidus, pretty much from it's inception.
Whisky, no one even asks about. Alcohol was the only way anyone could survive Europe, apparently, unless you were a nobleman trained in Kaphkhaz dance-yoga or soemthing.
The preponderance of smokeables in Jewish tradition tends to manifest only in periods with more writing. In the talmud, we are told of a practice of setting a mini-censer on the dining room table after a meal, which would then be lit, letting herbal fragrances fill the room, much to the satisfaction of all those present.
of this, it is written: Wine and fragrance made me wise, said R' Eliezer
The association of herbs and herbal wisdom with witchcraft may account for their dissappearence from everyday Jewish life following Rome, when most of our "don't scare the christians into killing us" legislation makes it onto the books, noteably the banning of Polygamy for Ashkenazic jewry and the re-wording of some sensitively phrased parts of the talmud and prayer books. Oral traditions of Jews and pagans hiding each other surface now and then, without verifiable source, one can only wonder what culture went on then, what with all the book burning.
It breaks my heart, to think of what we've lost, what we've destroyed. R' Nachman maintains that for new insight to come into the world, sometimes the old wisdom have to be consumed. Lord, help us with thy guidance, let the new good justify the destructions that were...
The first place I know of that an herb smoking culture is desribed again is completely outside christendom, in the Bagdad of the Ben Ish Chai. He sets a legal standard concerning the smoking of hookahs on festivals. I've read it as a permissing of smoking on Yom Tov, and not on Shabbos, understanding this as being part of the mystical difference between sabbath and holidays, where on holidays, the meals are more central, hence the permission to cook and carry out of personal boundaries on Holidays, the loophole that allows for the lighting of pipes.
He calls smoking there, on his laws of passover, if nowhere else, "shtiyas Hanesh" "the beverage of the soul." hmmm...
We don't hear of pipe smoking mystics again in Judasim until the chassidic revolution, when smokeable grasses and herbs, generalized under the blanket title of "Tobacco," (despite being more than one kind of compound, much like all blanched herb potions became "Tea," as opposed to what is specifically known as Green or Black Tea, or a Tea tree for that matter) suddenly became sacred sacraments, used for a variety of thaumatergic and/or theraputic purposes.
Foremost amongst these heads of their generations, wuz de' Holy Baal Shem Tov, may his karma shine down on us all, and his name be a blessing, who was accustomed to never let a sabbath end without taking hits from his water pipe (lulke
in yiddishe) immediatly after Havdalah.
It's not nessesarily clear why he was so strict to do this. there is a tradition of consoling the self over the loss of the extra sabbath soul and the day's end, using the sense of smell to restore the memory of how good the world could be. Maybe it had to do with that. maybe it had to do with the reading of the insense offering during the Feast of The King on saturday night, with judgements about the working world that people were being hurled back into, or something like that... It's not clear. But what is clear the tradition
"The stories Hasidim later told about the Ba'al Shem Tov
— usually referred to by his acronym, the Besht — invariably depict him with a pipe in hand, telling seemingly secular tales with deep religious meanings."
"Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye
said before his departure that he asked God to credit him for all the Torah and mizvot of his entire life with the same value he gave to the great Baal Shem Tov's heavenly thoughts (yichudim) when he smoked his pipe.
One day Rabbi David, head of the Ostrow Beit Din (Jewish court) was shown by the Baal Shem Tov the new heavens that had been created by his thoughts while smoking.
Rabbi David fell into a faint from the awe and fear that the sight inspired in him
"The Baal Shem Tov taught that even mundane acts could be invested with holiness if performed "for the sake of heaven." (Chassidic legend therefore depicts the movement's founder meditating upon Divine Names as he sat in silence, smoking his long-stemmed pipe.)
"Being connected with nature, the Baal Shem Tov was connected with his own body too. He discouraged fasting and self-affliction; he prayed with shouting, dancing and singing, with his whole body. He and his followers drank and smoked much more than their opponents thought was decent
, using both drinking and pipe smoking to lift their spirits and even enter into trances
"Once, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk was sitting with the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, and they were studying the talmudic commentary, the Rosh, by a candle. Rabbi Zusya, Rabbi Elimelech's brother, came over and lit his pipe with the candle and extinguished it. When they relit the candle, he came over again and lit his pipe with it, again extinguishing it. They then realized that he was doing this on purpose and they asked him why. He said, "You are laboring so hard to understand the commentary that you've ceased slightly in your d'vekut (God- consciousness)." So he snuffed out the candle. "What will be with the Rosh?" his brother, Rabbi Elimelech, asked [how can they hope to understand this difficult commentary without the kind of concentration that turns them slightly from God-awareness?]. Rabbi Zusya then told them the correct interpretation. Rabbi Shneur Zalman said later that the simple meaning that Rabbi Zusya told them was deeper than what the Rosh himself had intended.
In the early days of the Hasidic movement, it was usually understood that Torah study, especially of complex talmudic topics, took a person away from God-consciousness.
They decreased Torah study and increased prayer and meditation. The Baal Shem Tov had said that he reached his awesome spiritual levels not because of his Torah study but because of his fervent praying. Prayer is more face-to-face than is Torah study which relies on the intellect. Rabbi Zusya, more prayer-minded than his brother and Rabbi Shneur Zalman, sought to delicately remind them that their candle was being snuffed out and they should remember to "light their pipe."
Various early rebbes, such as the Baal Shem Tov himself, smoked a pipe to prepare for prayer. And the smoke that rose to skyward was considered to be a symbol of prayers rising into heaven.
How does this apply to us? Few of us study so much or so deeply that we lose our God-consciousness. But we do study without proper devotion, forgetting that the Torah is not an ordinary book but the words of the living God. When we are studying, we should occasionally pause to remind ourselves and reattach to the Giver of the Torah "
"The Besht's students constantly begged him to show them the Prophet Elijah until he finally agreed. One Friday afternoon, as was their custom, the disciples were hearing words of Torah from the Baal Shem Tov. Suddenly he said, "Hey. I have some grasses. Does anyone have a pipe?"
The Baal Shem Tov's disciples ran around looking for someone willing to lend a pipe, knowing that even the most mundane act of their Rebbe had spiritual ramifications. They returned, however, empty-handed. The Besht looked up and saw a Polish squire walking nearby. He asked his students if they would see if the squire was willing to lend his pipe.
The students approached the squire, and not only was he willing, but he walked over to the Besht to give it to him personally. The squire proceeded to light the pipe, and while the Besht smoked, they discussed the year's harvest, whether there would be enough grain, etc. The Besht's disciples, in the mean time, took no notice of the squire and stood around discussing the latest teachings of their Rebbe
After the squire left, the Baal Shem Tov declared, "I have kept my promise. I have shown you the prophet Elijah."
The disciples were shocked. "Why didn't you tell us it was Elijah, so that we could ask him to teach us?"
"If you yourselves had understood and asked who it was, I would have been permitted to reveal him to you. But since you did not understand, I could not do so.""
and of course, the classic story:Eliezer Good Name, and the
Case of the THE STOLEN PIPE!
During the time of the Baal Shem Tov, a pipe was one of man's
most important possessions. In those days, the Jewish people were so poor,
they barely had enough food to feed their families. So when a man would
come to visit a friend, the host could at least afford to offer his guest a
pinch of pipe tobacco and a cup of tea.
The Baal Shem Tov had a very special
tobacco pipe. It was said that
his pipe was so long
that he could rest the pipe stem on the back end of the
wagon while sitting on the seat and smoking. (whoa!)
Once, the Baal Shem Tov was traveling in his wagon with several of
his students and his wagon driver, Alexei, at the reins. They were smoking
their pipes and discussing a concept of Torah.
Suddenly, three soldiers of
a local of governor approached them on horseback. When the soldiers got
close to the wagon, they pulled out their swords and planned to steal some
money from the Jews in the wagon.
"Listen up, we are the soldiers for the Governor and we demand twenty
ruples for the right to travel on the Governor's road," the commander of the
soldiers said with a snarl.
"We're sorry," answered Alexei, "but the Rabbi and his students don't
have any money."
Suddenly the soldiers noticed the Baal Shem Tov's pipe.
"In that case we'll take this," said the commander, as he leaned down
from his horse and snatched the pipe out of the Baal Shem Tov's hand. With
that, they galloped off, holding the pipe in the air as if it were a sword.
No one in the wagon spoke. The students just sat, still feeling the
fear from the encounter with the soldiers. The Baal Shem Tov seemed to be
far off in a deep meditative state. As for Alexei, he reached under his
seat and took a little nip from a bottle of whiskey he always kept there.
About an hour passed. Suddenly, the Baal Shem Tov looked around and
said to Alexei, "Unhitch the horse from the wagon so that you can ride it.
Then go (Bo) down the road in the direction that the soldiers went. When
you finally catch up with them, take back the pipe and bring it back to me."
"But Rabbi, they aren't going to give me that pipe and they are
armed!" said Alexei with a lot of concern in his voice.
"Don't worry," said the Baal Shem, "you'll be able to take it."
As Alexei rode of in the direction that the soldiers went, he
wondered, "I sure hope the Master is right."
After riding for about an hour, Alexei saw the three soldiers sitting
on their horses. He slowly approached them wondering how he was going to
retrieve the pipe. But as he got closer, he saw that the three men were all
sound asleep on their horses. Then he saw the Baal Shem Tov's pipe secured
to the saddle of the commander of the soldiers. Alexei rode up as quietly
as he could and snatched the pipe from the saddle. Then, he rode away as
fast as he could. When he returned to the Baal Shem Tov he was nearly out
"Well Alexei, what happened? Did you get the pipe?" asked the Baal
Alexei handed him the pipe and said, "Rabbi, you won't believe what
happened. They were all sound asleep on their horses."
"Oh Alexei, you know I'm a man of faith, I do believe that happened!"
the Baal Shem Tov said with a warm smile and little chuckle in his voice.
Now harness the horse to the wagon, take a L'chaim and we'll be off."
And so it was.
Freely adapted by Tzvi Meir HaCohane (Howard M. Cohn, Patent Attorney) from
a story in Shivchei HaBesht as translated in In Praise OF THE BAAL SHEM TOV
by Ben Amos and Mintz.