||Third edition of these profound homilies from R. Phinehas ben Abraham Abba Shapiro of Korets, a contemporary of the Ba’al Shem Tov and one of the early Hasidic masters.
R. Phinehas of Korets (1726–1791), was born in Shklov, but later lived in Korets. Because of differences of opinion with the followers of R. Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezhirech, he left the town around 1770, moving to Ostrog, later settling in Shepetovka where he died. His plans to emigrate to Erez Israel were never fulfilled. Having studied Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed as a young man, R. Phinehas later gave primacy to the study of the Zohar which he considered a means of strengthening faith. He was active in small circles, and his disciples included R. Jacob Samson of Shepetovka, R. Ze'ev Wolf of Zhitomir, R. Aaron Samuel b. Naphtali Hertz ha-Kohen, and R. Raphael of Bershad. In addition to Midrash Pinhas, his sermons were published in various collections, among them Pe'er la-Yesharim (Jerusalem, 1921), Nofet Zufim (Lemberg, 1864), Ge'ullat Yisrael (Lemberg, 1864), and Likkutei Shoshannim (Czernowitz, 1857). They appeared also in the works of his disciples: Benei Yissakhar (Zolkiew, 1850), Ve-Zivvah ha-Kohen (Belaya Tserkov, 1823), and Kodesh Hillulim (1864). Extant manuscripts of his works are preserved in Jerusalem, Cincinnati, and in private collections. A great number of his sayings are given in brief, in the original Yiddish.
Although R. Phinehas met R. Israel b. Eliezer, the Ba'al Shem Tov, he should not be considered his disciple in the full sense of the word. He opposed many teachings of the Maggid of Mezhirech, mainly on the question of devekut ("devotion"). Phinehas, who represents the enthusiastic trend in Hasidism, prayed with particular devekut. He emphasized the special value of prayer and its influence on the upper worlds. Unlike other Hasidim, Phinehas held that the mitzvot should be performed for their own sake, believing that when a man observes a mitzvah, he raises the world to its highest point of origin, i.e., he abolishes its material presence. Expressing a measure of opposition to praying according to the prayer book of the "Ari" (Isaac Luria) with kavvanot ("meditations"), he stated that this evades the main issue: "To unite the heart to God in truth." Thus R. Phinehas opposed contemplative prayer, stating that man should pray explicitly for human needs, believing that God would fulfill his request. He thus opposed the custom of delaying the time of prayer, which had become widespread among the Hasidim. It is related that R. Phinehas praised highly the writings of R. Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye. He advised his followers not to take part in disputes with the Mitnaggedim.
In R. Phinehas' thought, the substance of the world derives from the life force which God continuously renews and causes to flow into its midst, but we must be wary of interpreting his words as expressing pantheistic ideas. On the face of it, it is possible that this conception negates the existence of the world, but it does not render it identical with God. The Sabbath in particular is considered a day of elevating the wordly sphere, to the extent that man does not see the need to eat on that day. Because of this it is also impossible to make special preparations for the Sabbath, because "it comes from Heaven and no one knows how and what is given to it." He also emphasized the use of melodies as a means of religious expression. In matters of morals, R. Phinehas emphasized the importance of truth and modesty. He advocated fasting as a way to overcome evil impulses.