The first thing that inspired me to look into Chassidus was a set of books which I found in my parents’ house. It was a collection of all the stories of the Baal Shem Tov.
Several years later, after I was already involved with Chassidus, my friends in yeshiva found that same set lying around yeshiva. They, however, had a totally different impression than I had. They looked at the stories as fantastic bubeh maases and didn’t take them seriously at all. On the contrary, they found in them further “proof” of how ridiculous Chassidus is.
What was my impression? I guess it could be summed up by the famous statement of the Satmar Rav, zy”a. whoever believes that all the stories are true, is a fool. But whoever believes that they can’t be true, is an apikores. I don’t know if I believed all those stories. But I was fascinated by the message which they conveyed. While most of my friends got thrown off by the packaging, I feel that I understood somewhat the point of the stories.
For example, there’s the story that once, immediately after Havdala, the Besh”t asked one of the talmidim to take out some money to pay for something. Although it was moments after Shabbos, and it was physically impossible that there should be anything in his pocket, the talmid had faith in his Rebbe, and he found money there. I don’t know if the story is true. But the point of the story, that there’s no such thing as anything being possible or not, and that faith in Tzaddikim can accomplish anything, hit me.
Or the story about the letter which the Besh”t gave a talmid to deliver, who subsequently forgot all about it. Many years after the Besh”t passed on, the letter was found. It had been written specifically about whatever had been going on in that talmid’s life at the moment when he found it.
One of the statements that really hit me was, that the Besh”t once remarked that all the “miracles” which he performed, none of them were done through practical Kabbalah and shemos. They were all accomplished through tefilah alone. He said that he’d be able to turn a lead oven into gold only through tefilah. I heard from this the message of simple faith, that one could daven for absolutely anything, and Hashem answers us. Reb Nachman writes that tefilah is a way of revealing that there are no laws of nature. After seeing this story I was filled with such a simple Emunah that I can really ask Hashem for anything.
The absolute simplicity which I felt being conveyed through the medium of these stories really spoke to my heart. They showed me a world in which Hashem was real, not just an idea. Of course, we all know that Hashem is real, but that simple feeling that He’s here for real seems to elude us. These stories had the power to give over that feeling.