||Classic hasidic commentary on the Torah by R. Abraham Joshua Heschel of Apta (Opatow; d. 1825). This edition of Ohev Yisrael was printed by Hannania Lippa and Joshua Meir, grandsons of the Rav of Slavita. The title page gives the place of printing as Lemberg (Lvov) in Latin letters but Zhitomir in Hebrew. There are several approbations and an introduction by R. Meshullam Zussia ben Isaac Meir, a grandson of the author. The text, on the weekly Torah readings is in two columns in rabbinic letters. The title of the book reflects the instructions that R. Abraham left, that his sole epitaph should be Ohev Yisrael (a lover of Israel), a description by which he is remembered among the Hasidim.
R. Abraham Joshua Heschel of Apta (Opatow; d. 1825) was a Polish hasidic zaddik, known as “the Rabbi of Apta.” He was the disciple of R. Elimelech of Lyzhansk (Lezhaisk) and possibly also of the maggid Jehiel Michel of Zloczow (Zolocher). He served as rabbi of the communities of Kolbuszowa Apta (Opatow) from 1809 to 1813 and Jassy (Moldavia), in 1813–14 settling in Medzibozh (Podolia), where he lived until his death. Abraham strongly opposed the maskilim in Brody for disseminating what he considered heretical ideas among Russian Jewry. Following the discriminatory legislation passed by Czar Alexander I, depriving Jewish contractors (arendars) and taverners of their livelihood, Abraham and Isaac of Radzivilow ordered a public fast. As president of the Volhynian kolel, he was active in fund raising for the community in Erez Israel. Acknowledged as an authority by many zaddikim in his old age, Abraham was called upon to excommunicate deviationists in the controversy between the Bratslav and Przysucha (Pshiskha) Hasidim, and did his best to promote unity and peace in the hasidic camp.
The problems of Jewish leadership and care for his people exercised his imagination, and he would recount fantastic “reminiscences” about the events he said that he had witnessed in former incarnations as high priest, a king of Israel, nasi, and exilarch. His revelations were regarded by the Hasidim as mysteries of the type experienced by Rabbah b. Bar Hana. A religious ecstatic, he delivered homilies on Sabbaths and festivals emphasizing love of the Creator and the importance of cleaving (devekut) to Him. He exerted a wide popular influence. His adherents believed that the violent gestures with which he accompanied the sermons denoted hitpashetut ha-gashmiyyut (the shedding of bodily existence). One of R. Abraham Joshua Heschel's contemporaries recounts that “in the midst of the meal, when the spirit was upon him, he cried out in a loud and dolorous voice and gesticulated; his head fell back almost to his heels, and all the people who sat round the sacred table... trembled and feared... and he started to relate secrets of the Torah and hidden mysteries; he opened his saintly mouth and spoke with great fervor; his face was [like] a torch, he raised his voice in ecstasy.” Nevertheless, R. Abraham Joshua Heschel concentrated on the system of practical Zaddikism and held that the zaddik “through his wisdom lifts up Israel to bind them to heaven and to bring prosperity, blessing, and life from the source of blessings.” His works include Torat Emet (Lemberg, 1854) and Ohev Yisrael (Zhitomir, 1863).