There is a popular chasidish saying that goes something like, “One who believes all the stories told about the Ba'al Shem Tov is a fool; one who does not believe they could have occurred is an apikoros." My personal observation is that this is true of a large number of big rebbes, both chasidish and not.

Why are there so many made-up stories about famous rabbis? Who makes them up?

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    There's a lot more stories made up about that Jew who lived in the Shtetl. – Double AA Apr 10 '13 at 0:19
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    @DoubleAA , with his wagon and encounters with Eliyahu Hanvi. – sam Apr 10 '13 at 0:42
  • Why does the Gemara employ the moshul as an explanatory method? – yoel Apr 10 '13 at 1:04
  • Who says they're made up? – Seth J Apr 10 '13 at 1:05
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    A central Hassidic belief is in the powers of the rebbe, so the hassidic ma'aseh would help enhance that belief. – Ariel K Apr 10 '13 at 5:30

I once heard the following explanation:

In Parshas Beha'aloscha (Bamidbar 8:3), after Aahron Hakohen was tasked with lighting the Menorah, the Torah tells us that "ויעש כן אהרן" - Aaron did so. Rashi there cites the Sifrei (1:5) that it was necessary for the Torah to advise us that Aahron in fact complied with the Divine instruction, for "this shows Aaron’s virtue that he did not deviate [from God’s command]". Many question why the mere fact that Aaron obeyed Hashem's command here is deemed so praiseworthy.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev explained as follows: For any ordinary person, fulfilling G-d's instruction would be nothing notable. However, for someone on the calibre of Aahron, who understood what was going on "behind the scenes", this was truly an exceptional achievement. Aaron was aware that the seven branches of the Menorah represented the seven different types of Middos (character traits) present in each Jewish soul, and his lighting of each candle affected the igniting of the Jewish souls. When faced with such a level of comprehension and appreciation of the task at hand, many would be so "blown away" that they could not perform the job satisfactorily; they would become so excited that they would spill the oil everywhere and not manage to light the candles. The greatness of Aahron was that in spite of his high level, he was still able to perform the job as required.

I've heard people bringing this as an explanation to what happens to many "Chassidic tales". The Chassidim are so excited by the greatness they perceive of their Rebbeim, that their stories "grow hands and feet". There is no malicious intent of course, but they are simply unable to contain themselves to “stick to the facts”. (But as a lawyer once said to the Judge when introducing the Chofetz Chaim to the witness stand: “Whether the stories they say about him are true or not is irrelevant. The point is that they don’t tell these stories about me and you!”)

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    Aha! I kept waiting, because there had to be a good Rebbe story in this answer! – Double AA Apr 10 '13 at 3:01
  • Good answer. That story about the Chofetz Chaim was actually one of the stories that I was thinking about when I asked this question. – Daniel Apr 10 '13 at 3:42
  • @Ariel I thought it meant they don't tell those stories about the witness stand. – Double AA Apr 10 '13 at 4:34
  • @DoubleAA LOL!! – Ariel Apr 10 '13 at 5:03

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